Weekend Bonus: This Is What We’re Up Against … Italian version

A reader named from Paolo wrote to me from Italy to recount an online debate he had with a doctor.  It’s very much like my recent go-round with the nutritionist.  Paolo translated the debate into English so I could enjoy the doctor’s ignorance.  Here’s a transcript so you can do likewise:

Doctor (to a reader):  Maureen, do not pay any attention to the articles found on websites which have not the slightest scientific foundation. Take your information from those who have no partisan interest and should not sell anything except health: public and then, not individuals who, for various reasons, are interested in selling something, sometimes just to have a reason to exist. INRAN, ISS, Ministry of Health … to name examples of Italian, or FDA or USDA for Anglophones are the references to follow. Everything else is … let’s say out of the scientific consensus.

Paolo: I see that you mention USDA and FDA as reliable sources of information on nutrition. Can you explain then why the obesity epidemic that devastated the U.S. started right after these organizations started to give official guidance on what to eat? Fault of the citizens who have not listened? Or deeply wrong directions (for example, the restriction of fat and the subsequent increased consumption of carbohydrates)?

My answer is implicit in the question, I would like to have an interpretation of the curious phenomenon.

Doctor: The obesity epidemic in the US is now experiencing is a tragic situation but it has certainly not exploded after the guidelines. Indeed, the guidelines were made just to put a stop to this. Even when Ancel Keys began the Seven Country Study Americans were concerned about the large number of cardiovascular diseases that afflicted the country, while this disease was unknown in Italy, as we were dying of hunger. Since then, the relationship between diet and a large number of diseases was clear and the recommendations are enacted. Not the opposite. It ‘s a bit like saying, since there are dentists man has more cavities. The recommendations are not deeply wrong, but if you believe that they are, please try to convince the scientific community.

Paolo: The first official guidance on what to eat came in 1977 (McGovern Commission). The famous cover of Time with the sad eggs is of ’84. Obesity has rocketed up since the ’80s, as shown here. You can’t deny that official statements have not brought the expected results (yes, you can to say that without the signs they would have gone worse, but it would be profoundly dishonest)

The famous Seven Country Studies was really about 20 countries, but Mr. Keys has chosen to ignore data that did not contribute to the demonstration of his conjecture (for example, has failed to consider the data of France and Switzerland where, despite a fat intake saturated well above the average, had an incidence of cardiovascular disease by far the lowest).

All this has led to an incredibly reckless campaign against animal fats, so that many have been consuming artificial trans fatty acids (oh my god…). It also has allowed pharmaceutical companies to make billions of dollars on anti-cholesterol drugs, which nobody has ever been able to demonstrate the effectiveness in preventing heart attacks (I know that doctors advise them to healthy people of 40 years because “who knows what can happen”).

This fat phobia led consequently people to consume more carbohydrates. A direct consequence: obesity.

In fact, carbohydrates are, unlike fat, addictive. Typically, three hours after a lunch of pasta or pizza, that unbearable stomach hole leads us to put in a sweet snack. With the fat this does not happen, and in fact I eat them at will.

Doctor: The first guidelines appeared in the 40s and 50s in “a daily food guide”. Obesity is increasing throughout the Western world and so guidelines were given to populations. Of course, if your nutritional culture is based on wikipedia, you can make big mistakes. Governments made for years anti-smoking campaigns and smoking is still increasing (he really said this!) . If there were no smoke problem recommendations would not exist.

Paolo: From wikipedia I took only a chart that seemed significant enough. As for smoking, no one questions the danger of smoking and in fact much less than before (where did you read that today smoking is increasing?)

In the case of nutrition the question is much more controversial and there are many scientists who are starting to question the “religion of cholesterol.” The problem is that questioning the sacred word of the USDA for a scientist means jeopardizing his career. He risks being excluded from the scientific community, and in fact many are convinced of the error, but avoid saying so for fear.

What can you say about the recommendations are given to American children to drink only skim milk? Do you know that this has been correlated with the epidemic of ADHD that has been fought with Ritalin and Strattera? (Strange, drug companies that make money). What a shame …

Doctor: I suggest you stop taking news from “Mickey Mouse Magazine” and pay attention not to say things that are completely false. If you are not a scientist, please just ask questions of me, or you are out. If you are a scientist, introduce yourself so we can discuss at the same level.

Paolo: It’s not important who I am, science is done with the facts and not with academic qualifications. The provocation (scientifically speaking) was clear from my first message, which I did not think it would have been published.   [NOTE: I know I’m missing something in translation in that last one– Tom]

Personally I am quite convinced of my opinions and I didn’t write to you because I wanted a confirmation, but because they I’m always ready to change my mind when I find some opposite evidence.

Unfortunately, I have to say that your contribution was not satisfying, as you carefully avoid commenting on the facts that I suggested and preferred to ridicule my sources (wikipedia from which, I remember, I extracted only a graph).

One last question: The American Diabetes Association recommends people with diabetes to maintain carbohydrate intake at 50%. What do you think about it?

Doctor: It’s very important who you are. It’s not easy to make science, nor to discuss about it. So you need to study. If you can produce any document that proves that USDA and FDA are wrong, I will be happy to read it. But I think it’s difficult, as USDA and FDA positions come from deep analysis of documentation provided by the scientific literature. What you say are personal opinions not approved by the scientific community. It’s good to give carbohydrates to diabetics, cause it’s the best way to prevent CHD, cancer, and metabolic syndrome and diabetes.

At this point, Paolo had an “Oh my god!” moment and chose not to continue.  How do you say “banging my head against my desk” in Italian?

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74 thoughts on “Weekend Bonus: This Is What We’re Up Against … Italian version

  1. darMA

    I was lucky to have a doctor for most of my adult life who actually listened to his patients. He was late to climb on the statin prescribing bandwagon until he studied the subject thoroughly himself. After trying quite a few on me, all with some adverse reaction that made my life miserable, he wanted to try just one more – the newest one. But I’d had it by then and told him, doc, you can quote all the “experts” you want but in this case, my body is the expert and it’s clearly saying it doesn’t want any more statins. He thought a minute and said, all right, and never mentioned any cholesterol medicines to me again. He later told me if several patients had severe adverse reactions to a particular drug, he would take ALL his patients off that drug. Sadly, he is now deceased due to a cascade of adverse reactions due to a fluoroquinolone prescribed by his own doctor. Before he finally had to retire due to these health problems, he warned all his patients to NEVER take one of the quinolones. I miss him like hell and doubt I’ll ever find another doctor like him..

    That’s a good message for doctors everywhere: my body is the expert.

    Reply
  2. Jan

    “If you are not a scientist, please just ask questions of me, or you are out. If you are a scientist, introduce yourself so we can discuss at the same level.”

    See, this – THIS – is why I have such an issue with doctors. They seem to think that some magical transformation takes place once they have that M.D. behind their name that makes anyone who doesn’t a complete moron. You can tell them all you want about your 149 I.Q. (yes, that’s mine) and they’ll still patronize you, because you can’t read, research, reason or form an educated opinion about anything unless you have a doctorate of some sort.

    Okay, now I have to tell this joke: A doctor dies in a car crash and ends up at the gates of heaven, waiting in a long line to get in. After awhile, he walks to the front of the line and tells St. Peter, “Look, I was a doctor on earth. I saved a lot of lives. Couldn’t I perhaps go ahead of these people?” St. Peter informs him that all souls are equal and he’ll have to wait his turn like everyone else.

    As the doctor returns to the line, grumbling, he sees a man wearing a white coat and stethoscope sail past the line, wave to St. Peter, and enter the pearly gates. Outraged, the doctor stomps back to St. Peter and says, “Hey! You wouldn’t cut me a break even though I was a doctor on earth, and now you just let that doctor go ahead of everyone!”

    Peter smiles and replies, “That’s no doctor; that’s God — he just thinks he’s a doctor.”

    Reply
  3. Pippi

    Funnily enough I too had a groan-inducing “this is what we’re up against moment” today. A doctor wrote a letter to my local paper advocating that a cholesterol-free vegan diet be adopted by all on the basis of humanity’s obvious “natural veganism”. The main basis for this bold assertion? Apparently the fact that humans are the only predators to cook their meat is (to him) sufficient evidence of our innate inability to cope with unprocessed meat.

    I can only hope that as he reads his own letter, printed on a piece of processed tree, or maybe even a smart phone, that he realises the idiocy of this little piece of naturalistic fallacy.

    Talk about tortured logic! I guess during the hundreds of thousands of years that humans lived as hunter-gatherers, they were ignoring their natural veganism. If the doctor knew anything about history, he’d know that humans often ate raw meat and fish.

    Reply
  4. Jan

    “If you are not a scientist, please just ask questions of me, or you are out. If you are a scientist, introduce yourself so we can discuss at the same level.”

    See, this – THIS – is why I have such an issue with doctors. They seem to think that some magical transformation takes place once they have that M.D. behind their name that makes anyone who doesn’t a complete moron. You can tell them all you want about your 149 I.Q. (yes, that’s mine) and they’ll still patronize you, because you can’t read, research, reason or form an educated opinion about anything unless you have a doctorate of some sort.

    Okay, now I have to tell this joke: A doctor dies in a car crash and ends up at the gates of heaven, waiting in a long line to get in. After awhile, he walks to the front of the line and tells St. Peter, “Look, I was a doctor on earth. I saved a lot of lives. Couldn’t I perhaps go ahead of these people?” St. Peter informs him that all souls are equal and he’ll have to wait his turn like everyone else.

    As the doctor returns to the line, grumbling, he sees a man wearing a white coat and stethoscope sail past the line, wave to St. Peter, and enter the pearly gates. Outraged, the doctor stomps back to St. Peter and says, “Hey! You wouldn’t cut me a break even though I was a doctor on earth, and now you just let that doctor go ahead of everyone!”

    Peter smiles and replies, “That’s no doctor; that’s God — he just thinks he’s a doctor.”

    Reply
  5. Anand Srivastava

    “If you are not a scientist, please just ask questions of me, or you are out. If you are a scientist, introduce yourself so we can discuss at the same level.”

    The funny thing is that a doctor is not a scientist. So how he will have intelligent discussion with a scientist. Luckily for him most his patients are not aware of the junk advice he is giving.

    Reply
  6. Anand Srivastava

    “If you are not a scientist, please just ask questions of me, or you are out. If you are a scientist, introduce yourself so we can discuss at the same level.”

    The funny thing is that a doctor is not a scientist. So how he will have intelligent discussion with a scientist. Luckily for him most his patients are not aware of the junk advice he is giving.

    Reply
  7. McAnon

    “Actually he IS a researcher. He works for the Italian public nutrition agency.”

    That is just sad… looks like Americans exported their bad government nutrition guidelines to the world… then again Italians did export their pastas, mushroom-stomping plumbers and mafia to America, so maybe this is payback?
    You need to pay “protection” money to the doctors and companies that sell drugs, “healthy” fortified foods and supplements you wouldn’t need on a paleo diet, so bad things don’t happen to your health – from listening to their bad advice.
    Who knows what will happen if you stop paying those companies and your doctors protection money? Maybe one day you’ll be walking along, eating some whole grains full of calcium-depleting anti-nutrients, slip on some stairs and get both your legs broken by oesteopenia.

    Reply
  8. McAnon

    “Actually he IS a researcher. He works for the Italian public nutrition agency.”

    That is just sad… looks like Americans exported their bad government nutrition guidelines to the world… then again Italians did export their pastas, mushroom-stomping plumbers and mafia to America, so maybe this is payback?
    You need to pay “protection” money to the doctors and companies that sell drugs, “healthy” fortified foods and supplements you wouldn’t need on a paleo diet, so bad things don’t happen to your health – from listening to their bad advice.
    Who knows what will happen if you stop paying those companies and your doctors protection money? Maybe one day you’ll be walking along, eating some whole grains full of calcium-depleting anti-nutrients, slip on some stairs and get both your legs broken by oesteopenia.

    Reply
  9. kat s

    How do you say “banging my head against my desk” in Italian?

    “colpire la mia testa contro la mia scrivania”

    Reply
  10. kat s

    It’s good to give carbohydrates to diabetics, cause it’s the best way to prevent CHD, cancer, and metabolic syndrome and diabetes.”

    oh my god, please tell me he did NOT just say that!!!! he’s kidding right? please tell me he’s joking. lol

    Reply
  11. kat s

    It’s good to give carbohydrates to diabetics, cause it’s the best way to prevent CHD, cancer, and metabolic syndrome and diabetes.”

    oh my god, please tell me he did NOT just say that!!!! he’s kidding right? please tell me he’s joking. lol

    Reply
  12. Levi

    Its funny how quickly these “professionals” like Campbell and this dude resort to name-calling and ad hominem attacks. Shut up! You aren’t a scientist. Well, last I checked, doctors aren’t scientists either. They just study the things that scientists research which is usually years later. Its the rare doctor that actually keeps up with the literature.

    I heard a great joke the other night:

    Q: What’s the difference between and doctor and God?
    A: God doesn’t also think he’s a doctor.

    Reply
  13. Levi

    Its funny how quickly these “professionals” like Campbell and this dude resort to name-calling and ad hominem attacks. Shut up! You aren’t a scientist. Well, last I checked, doctors aren’t scientists either. They just study the things that scientists research which is usually years later. Its the rare doctor that actually keeps up with the literature.

    I heard a great joke the other night:

    Q: What’s the difference between and doctor and God?
    A: God doesn’t also think he’s a doctor.

    Reply
  14. tracker

    “It ‘s a bit like saying, since there are dentists man has more cavities.”

    Well, actually, now that he mentions it… LOL

    I love archaeology, I’ve been reading about it since I was a little kid. I’m not an archaeologist, so I suppose this “doctor”, and I use that term loosely, would not listen to me. Anyway, did you know that ancient people, prior to agriculture did not have cavities (dental caries as they call it in the literature). There is not a single case of paleolithic teeth having cavities (that I’ve read, I suppose there could be some), and it’s not like they brushed or anything. Shhhh! Don’t tell your dentist o.O

    There is only evidence of cavities in teeth of Homosapiens after they became agricultural and started eating grains/bread. If you look at the population of Sumeria and other near Eastern groups that first started “civilization”, their mouths were riddled with cavities. This is well documented as teeth and bones are usually what survives such long periods of time.

    Reply
  15. tracker

    “It ’s a bit like saying, since there are dentists man has more cavities.”

    Well, actually, now that he mentions it… LOL

    I love archaeology, I’ve been reading about it since I was a little kid. I’m not an archaeologist, so I suppose this “doctor”, and I use that term loosely, would not listen to me. Anyway, did you know that ancient people, prior to agriculture did not have cavities (dental caries as they call it in the literature). There is not a single case of paleolithic teeth having cavities (that I’ve read, I suppose there could be some), and it’s not like they brushed or anything. Shhhh! Don’t tell your dentist o.O

    There is only evidence of cavities in teeth of Homosapiens after they became agricultural and started eating grains/bread. If you look at the population of Sumeria and other near Eastern groups that first started “civilization”, their mouths were riddled with cavities. This is well documented as teeth and bones are usually what survives such long periods of time.

    Reply

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