Archive for the “Bad Science” Category

A production crew from Korea came to the Fat Head farm on Sunday to interview me and to film us collecting eggs and cooking them up with some sausage. The segments will go into a TV special about the controversy over whether saturated fat and cholesterol cause heart disease. I will, of course, be one of those who says nope, they don’t. They’ll interview several other people who share my opinion (Uffe Ravnskov and Chris Masterjohn among them, if I remember correctly) and, of course, the usual suspects who still promote the artergycloggingsaturatedfat! theory.

I wasn’t sure how specific they’d want me to be as far as citing research, so I took some time over the weekend to poke through my database of articles and studies. Turns out their questions were more general (“Do you worry at all about how much saturated fat you eat?”), but what the heck, since I came across a couple of interesting items in what I now think of as the Cold Case Files, I thought I’d share them.

The first is a study published in – wait for it – the Journal of the American Heart Association. The AHA is, of course, one of the organizations most responsible for scaring people away from saturated fat. Saturated fat raises cholesterol, and high cholesterol causes heart attacks, doncha know. At least that’s been their position ever since Ancel Keys joined the AHA board of directors.

But this study is from 1961 – before Keys joined the AHA board. So I find the study’s conclusions rather fascinating. The researchers gathered data on serum cholesterol levels and coronary artery blockage taken from 200 autopsies. Here’s what they found:

The mean atherosclerotic indices, i.e., the amount and severity of atherosclerosis in the aorta and the coronary and cerebral arteries, showed progressive increase with age.

The mean serum total cholesterol concentration rose progressively from the first decade to a maximum level in the fifth decade and subsequently declined.

In other words, cholesterol tends to rise until sometime around age 50, then drop a bit. The buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries, meanwhile, progresses throughout life. The researchers noted those facts because they wanted to avoid a false association:

The mean serum total cholesterol showed a progressive rise from the first to sixth groups of aortic atherosclerosis, but, at the same time, the mean age for each group also increased. Since the amount of atherosclerosis in the aorta increased with age and the serum cholesterol concentration also rose up to the fifth decade, it is important to determine if the significant correlation between the concentration of serum total cholesterol and aortic atherosclerosis is a correlation with severity of atherosclerosis per se or is merely due to the effect of age, or both.

So they compared serum cholesterol and coronary blockage within age groups. The results:

No correlation could be found between the two, indicating that, when the age factor was removed, the positive correlation between aortic atherosclerosis and serum total cholesterol is statistically insignificant.

And later in the same paper:

In the present study, we did not find any significant correlation between the blood serum total cholesterol and atherosclerotic index as a representation of the extent and severity of atherosclerosis for any of the vessels studied. The mean serum total cholesterol concentration in the six groups of aortic atherosclerosis showed a successive rise but, when the age factor was taken into consideration, the correlation between atherosclerosis and serum cholesterol in these same groups was found statistically insignificant.

No significant association once you take age into account.  Doesn’t that just make you want to run out and get a prescription for statins?

In my research database, I also found an abstract from a European Journal of Clinical Nutrition study of diets in the U.K. vs. France. It’s a bit of a silly study, based on dietary recall and all that, but I saved it because of this gem:

There were positive and negative trends in food consumption in each country. UK respondents reported eating more beans and pulses, less cheese, red meat, and processed meats than French respondents. However, on the negative side, they ate less fruit and vegetables, fish and poultry, cereals, and more sweets and chocolates and cakes, pastries, biscuits and puddings.

Hey, way to go, UK! Sure, the Brits reported eating more sweets and biscuits. But by gosh, they also reported eating less meat, processed meat and cheese than the French. I’m pretty sure they also eat less butter than the French. And aren’t foods like meat, cheese and butter the causes of heart disease?  They raise cholesterol levels, ya know.

The study was published in 2000. I happen to have spreadsheets of World Health Organization data on average cholesterol levels and heart-attack deaths from that period. (Some of it’s from 2000, some from 2002.) I plucked the data for the UK and France. I also added data for the Czech Republic, Germany and Russia. Why? Well, the Russians have low average cholesterol, the Czechs have the same average cholesterol as the French, and the Germans have one of the highest average cholesterol levels in the world.

Here are the average cholesterol levels among men, from lowest to highest:

Russia 189
UK: 197
France: 209
Czech Republic: 209
Germany: 220

According to the Cholesterol Kills! theory, the Russians are in great shape as far as heart disease, while the Germans are probably grabbing their chests and dropping like flies.

Here’s a chart I created in Excel to plot cholesterol levels against rates of heart-attack deaths. The blue line is average cholesterol levels among men; the orange line is annual heart-attack deaths per 100,000 men.

Hmmm, things aren’t looking so good for the Russians after all. And German men have fewer fatal heart-attack deaths as a group than men in the UK, despite an average cholesterol level that’s 23 points higher.

The Russian heart-attack rate is so high, including Russia scrunches the chart. So here it is again with Russia removed.

If high cholesterol causes heart disease, those lines should more or less rise together. But they clearly don’t. If anything, they tend to move in opposite directions.

It was fun digging through the Cold Case Files. But I’ll be happy when the entire Cholesterol Kills! theory is a cold case file.

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Two items have appeared the news lately that ought to change what most people think they know about diets and health – that is, if most people were aware of the news items.

I covered one of them in a recent post about the tipping point: several prominent organizations, including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, have finally admitted that upon further review, cholesterol and saturated fat aren’t health hazards after all. We can’t underestimate that one. Given how entrenched the arterycloggingsaturatedfat! theory was, this is akin to officials in the North Korean government announcing that upon further review, communism doesn’t actually work.

Think about just how profoundly the fear of saturated fat and cholesterol has affected us over the decades. It’s why whole milk was banned from schools and replaced with sugar-laden skim milk. It’s why when you go shopping for yogurt, almost every container is labeled nonfat or low-fat. It’s why doctors and nutritionists wanted to put everyone on a low-fat diet. It’s why Weight Watchers started peddling those ridiculous Smart Ones (one gram of fat) meals. It’s why so many restaurants feature a “heart healthy” section of low-fat foods. It’s why restaurant foods are fried in those lousy vegetable oils.  It’s why hospitals feed low-fat carbage to patients, including diabetics.

I could go on and on, but I won’t. The point is, fear of arterycloggingsaturatedfat! has underpinned millions of bad decisions over the decades by everyone from food manufacturers to frustrated dieters. Let’s cross our fingers and hope those days are finally coming to end.

Of course, we haven’t just been warned away from fatty foods over the years. Nope, we’ve been warned that all kinds of foods will kills us – red meat, to name an obvious example. And we’ve been assured that some foods will save us – whole grains, to name an obvious example. Most of those warnings and assurances have been based on observational studies. This or that is linked to such-and-such, blah-blah-blah.

I’ve been yammering on about how unreliable those studies are ever since I started blogging six years ago. It’s bad enough that researchers want to draw conclusions from mere correlations. But even the correlations are suspect, because (as I’ve pointed out several times), the data is based on food-recall surveys that simply aren’t reliable. I’ve known that for decades, because when I worked at a magazine, we all had to fill out a food-recall survey for some kind of health evaluation, and it was a joke. We just made stuff up to be done with it.

Now a paper published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings says the same thing. Here’s part of the abstract:

We assert that uncritical faith in the validity and value of M-BMs [memory-based dietary assessments] has wasted substantial resources and constitutes the greatest impediment to scientific progress in obesity and nutrition research. Herein, we present evidence that M-BMs are fundamentally and fatally flawed owing to well-established scientific facts and analytic truths. First, the assumption that human memory can provide accurate or precise reproductions of past ingestive behavior is indisputably false. Second, M-BMs require participants to submit to protocols that mimic procedures known to induce false recall. Third, the subjective (ie, not publicly accessible) mental phenomena (ie, memories) from which M-BM data are derived cannot be independently observed, quantified, or falsified; as such, these data are pseudoscientific and inadmissible in scientific research.

Pow. Zing. Whamo. The researchers are calling B.S. on M-BMs. But wait, it gets better: they’re also calling B.S. on perhaps the most influential organization to make use of (ahem) “studies” based M-BMs. Here’s how an article in Reason Magazine online describes what the researchers have to say:

A new article by University of Alabama-Birmingham researcher Edward Archer and colleagues Gregory Pavela and Carl Lavie, published this week in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, argues that the conclusions drawn by the federal government’s controversial Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) rest on fatally flawed assumptions about unusable data. Consequently, the authors conclude that the DGAC’s work—and the research used to support that work—is so off base as to be scientifically useless.

Pow. Zing. Whamo. Take that, USDA.

The Reason article includes an interview with researcher Edward Archer. Here’s some of what he had to say:

“My coauthors and I wrote this article because for over 50 years, government-funded researchers have been presenting anecdotal evidence as science. Given that these data constitute a majority of the evidence base for the federal nutrition guidelines, we think the greatest problem in nutrition and obesity research is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge created by pseudoscientific methods.”

“My previous work demonstrated that 60-80 percent of the dietary data from the NHANES is physiologically implausible. That is a scientific way of saying that people could not survive on the amount of foods and beverages they report.”

“It defies scientific and common sense to think that anyone can accurately remember and will honestly report the exact amount and specific type of foods and beverages they consumed yesterday, much less last week or last year.”

“The confluence of self-interest, institutional inertia, and scientific incompetence has led us to where we are today. The federal government has massively increased spending on nutrition and obesity research over the past few decades, and now spends over $2 billion of taxpayer’s money per year. Unfortunately, the people that control that funding are the same researchers that use these anecdotal methods, train the next generation of researchers, and control the publication of scientific papers. The same researchers are getting funded to do the same research year after year after year. This inertia and self-interest are exacerbated by the exorbitant amount of grant funding established researchers receive. As with many things in life, follow the money.”

Follow the money … I should use that line someday.

“The government funded researchers control the field by funding only those researchers that use the same flawed methods; they stifle progress by rejecting contradictory evidence, and immediately impugn the integrity and competence of researcher who disagree.”

It doesn’t surprise me in the least that government-funded researchers stifle research and reject contradictory evidence. But let’s set all that aside and focus on the main point: food-recall surveys are a complete joke. I don’t care how much fancy-pants statistical analysis you perform, if the data going in is garbage, then garbage is what comes out the other end.

So once again, think about how many This Food Linked To That Disease articles you’ve seen in the media over the decades. You’ve probably had well-meaning friends and family members shove them in your face while you’re busy trying to dunk a piece of bacon in an egg yolk. I’ve lost count of how many people have told me they don’t eat red meat because they had a near-relative die of colon cancer, and well, you know, red meat is linked to colon cancer. It’s been in the news and everything.

Saturated fat and cholesterol aren’t health hazards, and pretty much every This Food Linked To That study ever published is a joke.

Those two things ought to change everything.

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Like most people, I’ve long assumed whiskey can have a negative impact on memory. The first time I drank whiskey (as a teenager, I’m sorry to say), my only memory after the fourth or fifth shot was of a glowing star dancing in front of my face. I later realized, while helping my drinking buddy clean the room where we drank the whiskey, that the dancing star was the burning end of a cigarette. Neither of us remembered smoking the cigarettes, but we sure cleaned up quite a few of them.

My belief that whiskey affects memory was strengthened during my college years. My roommate and I mostly drank beer at parties, but occasionally indulged in Jack Daniel’s. The Jack Daniel’s nights sometimes led to a series of next-day phone calls intended to ascertain, say, why my car was parked in the middle of a courtyard, and why some guy I didn’t recognize was snoring in the back seat.

So yeah, I just always figured whiskey is bad for memory, at least in the short term.

Well, I should know better than to form medical opinions based on anecdotal evidence. Turns out whiskey doesn’t affect memory. I know this because I recently conducted a careful study comparing the effects of gin and whiskey on memory, and there was no statistically significant difference. That means we don’t need to be concerned with whiskey’s effect on the brain. I could even write a news article with the headline:

STUDY QUESTIONS WHISKEY, MEMORY LOSS CONNECTION

What, you say that’s a ridiculous conclusion? Well, of course it is. But it’s no more ridiculous than the conclusions from a study that generated this headline:

STUDY QUESTIONS STATIN, MEMORY LOSS CONNECTION

Beginning treatment with a statin was associated with a nearly fourfold increased risk of developing acute memory loss within 30 days in a retrospective cohort study …

Yeah, so that would lead me to conclude statins are bad for memory.

… but a similar increase in risk was seen in patients starting non-statin lipid-lowering drugs.

WTF?!! Does that somehow exonerate statins? Let’s read on.

Compared with non-users, both statin and non-statin lipid-lowering drug (LLD) use was found to be associated with acute memory loss in the weeks following treatment initiation, but there was no difference in memory loss when statins and non-statins were compared with each other, researcher Brian L. Strom, MD, of Rutgers University in Newark, N.J., and colleagues wrote online June 8 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

I see. So Dr. Strom compared the effects of whiskey and gin on memory loss and found them to be the same. No worries about whiskey, then. Next thing you know, Dr. Strom will be suggesting people who drink whiskey and gin just think they’re experiencing more memory loss.

The observation that all LLDs were associated with memory loss suggests that either all drugs used to lower lipid levels cause acute memory loss or that the observed memory loss in the study was due to detection bias, Strom said.

Head. Bang. On. Desk.

In a telephone interview with MedPage Today, Strom said it makes sense that patients on a new drug would be more likely to notice symptoms and attribute them to the drug, and they are also more likely to report such symptoms to their physician.

Riiiiight. Statins (and other lipid-lowering drugs) don’t actually cause memory loss, ya see. It’s just that people on statins who were going to have memory issues anyway are more likely to blame the drug. Kind of like one of those next-day phone conversations in college …

“Hello? Oh, hey, Mark. What? Of course I’m alive! Why wouldn’t I be? Uh-huh … uh-huh … I said WHAT?! YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME! Well, hell no, I don’t remember! Look, just do me a favor and tell her it was the Jack Daniel’s talking!”

Several previous studies have shown acute memory loss associated with the use of statins, but others have not shown the association or have even shown improved memory in long-term statin users compared with non-users.

Strom noted that without the non-statin LLD control group in his study, the findings would have shown a strong association between statin initiation and short-term memory loss.

“In the absence of this control group, the finding would have been completely misleading,” he said.

Okay, to illustrate the deep and wide stupidity of that statement, imagine this quote about my whiskey-and-gin comparison study.

Naughton noted that without the gin-only control group in his study, the findings would have shown a strong association between whiskey and short-term memory loss.

“In the absence of this gin-only control group for comparison, the finding would have been completely misleading,” he said.

Strom said the study findings should reassure both patients and physicians who prescribe statins.

Naughton said the study findings should reassure both college students who drink whiskey and the liquor-store owners who sell the whiskey.

“This whole issue of short-term memory loss with statins is really a tempest in a teapot,” he said. “Statins are very effective drugs, and people should not veer away from them for fear of a short-term memory effect, especially given the data suggesting that long-term statin use improves memory.”

“This whole issue of short-term memory loss with whiskey is really a tempest in a teapot,” Naughton said. “Whiskey is a very effective drink, and people should not veer away from it for fear of a short-term memory effect, especially given the data suggesting that long-term whiskey use improves memory.”

Strom reported receiving research funding from AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers Squibb and serving as a consultant to Abbott, AstraZeneca, Bayer Healthcare, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Novartis and Pfizer. A co-author reported receiving research funding from AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers Squibb and serving as a consultant to AstraZeneca, Bayer Healthcare, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Merck.

Naughton reported receiving research funding from Jack Daniel’s and Old Grand-Dad and serving as consultant to Jim Beam, Johnnie Walker and Jameson’s. A co-author reported receiving research funding from Knob Creek and Barton Reserve and serving as a consulting to Glen Morangie, Glenfiddich, Canadian Club and Bushmill’s.

Here’s the bottom line: beating down your cholesterol is bad for your brain, whether you do it with a statin or another drug. Comparing statins to non-statin LLDs doesn’t change that … any more than drinking gin instead of whiskey will explain why that strange dude is snoring in the back seat of your car.

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I wasn’t planning to write another post this week because I’m busy at work and trying to make headway on the book Chareva and I are producing.  But a meat-and-mortality study showed up in my inbox, which prompted me to dig up a few more.  In my post dedicated to our vegetarian-zealot friends, I made the point that observational studies (the kind they cherry-pick to “prove” that meat will kill you) are unreliable and inconsistent.  Here are some studies that underscore that point.

From Meat consumption in relation to mortality from cardiovascular disease among Japanese men and women:

Moderate meat consumption, up to ~100 g/day, was not associated with increased mortality from ischemic heart disease, stroke or total cardiovascular disease among either gender.

What their data showed is that compared to men with the lowest meat intake, men with the highest meat intake had lower mortality rates from heart disease, a very slightly higher mortality rate from stroke, and the same mortality rate from all cardiovascular diseases combined.  Women who ate the most meat had a slightly higher rate of mortality from heart disease, but a lower mortality rate from stroke.

So here’s the story so far:  meat reduces heart-disease mortality in men, but raises it in women.  But the differences aren’t really significant either way.

From Red meat and poultry intakes and risk of total and cause-specific mortality:

Red meat intake was associated with increased risk of ischemic heart disease mortality and with decreased risk of hemorrhagic stroke mortality. There were suggestive inverse associations of poultry intake with risk of total and all-CVD mortality among men, but not among women.

Okay, then.  Red meat causes heart disease – for both men and women  –  but prevents strokes.  Poultry also prevents heart disease for men, but not for women.  Got it.

From Meat intake and mortality:

Regarding cause-specific mortality, men and women had elevated risks for cancer mortality for red and processed meat intakes. Furthermore, cardiovascular disease risk was elevated for men and women in the highest quintile of red and processed meat intakes. When comparing the highest with the lowest quintile of white meat intake, there was an inverse association for total mortality and cancer mortality, as well as all other deaths for both men and women.

Stop the presses!  Turns out red meat causes cancer and heart disease for both men and women after all.  Poultry, on the other hand, prevents cancer and a premature death – for both men and women.

From Red meat and processed meat consumption and all-cause mortality:

In a dose-response meta-analysis, consumption of processed meat and total red meat, but not unprocessed red meat, was statistically significantly positively associated with all-cause mortality in a nonlinear fashion.

Notice what they wrote about unprocessed red meat:  it’s not associated with higher all-cause mortality.  Now look at the conclusion:

These results indicate that high consumption of red meat, especially processed meat, may increase all-cause mortality.

Somehow red meat is still to blame, but especially processed meat.  The accurate statement (based on their data, anyway) would have been that only processed meat is the problem.

So the updated story: red meat and especially processed meat will kill you.

From Meat consumption and diet quality and mortality:

After multivariable adjustment, neither red and processed meat, nor white meat consumption were consistently associated with all-cause or cause-specific mortality. In men, white meat consumption tended to be inversely associated with total mortality, but there was no such association among women.

I see.  Red meat, white meat, and processed meat aren’t associated with all-cause mortality, or with mortality from any specific cause.  White meat prevents premature death among men, but not women.

So here’s what we know from observational studies:  Meat – especially red meat and most especially processed meat – will kill you.  However, meat (including red meat) prevents heart disease among men while having no effect on premature death.  Unfortunately, the same red meat causes heart disease among women — and among men, except for the men.

White meat prevents heart disease among men, but not women.  However, it prevents cancer and premature death for both men and women, but not women.

Oh, and all meats – red, white, processed and unprocessed – also have no effect on specific or all-cause mortality for anybody.

Got it?

That’s why observational studies are a joke – as are the people who cherry-pick them to (ahem) prove a point about meat and health.

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It must be tough to be Dr. Dean Ornish these days. The man desperately wants to convince everyone to live on a low-fat vegetarian diet, and yet the Wisdom of Crowds effect is turning the tide in the opposite direction. People previously frightened into giving up eggs and red meat have gone paleo, improved their health, and announced as much to the crowd. Books like The Big Fat Surprise are shining a very bright light on the shoddy science that led to anti-animal-fat hysteria in the first place. Researchers are revisiting the science and declaring the low-fat diet a mistake.

This can’t sit well at all with Dr. Ornish, for whom the plant-based diet is clearly akin to a religion. In fact, I suspect that like many vegetarians and vegans, the thought process that formed his beliefs went something like this:

  • Eating animals is a sin.
  • Therefore, animal foods must harm your health – a punishment for committing sin.
  • Giving up animal foods must improve your health – a reward for no longer being a sinner.

Ornish has spent his career warning of the health hazards of animal foods. The emerging evidence – the reliable kind, anyway – keeps contradicting him, so now he’s like a walking, talking example of the people described in the terrific book Mistake Were Made (but not by me): having staked out a very public position, he can’t possibly change his mind without committing career suicide. He must cling to that position to the bitter end.

And so Ornish pops up now and then to bang the Animal Foods Kill! drum yet again … by pointing to a lousy observational study here and a mouse study there. You never hear him quoting clinical studies on humans (i.e., the studies that actually matter) because those don’t support his beliefs.

Ornish’s latest attempt to bang the drum came in the form of an essay in the New York Times, which several readers called to my attention. Let’s take a look.

Many people have been making the case that Americans have grown fat because they eat too much starch and sugar, and not enough meat, fat and eggs. Recently, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee lifted recommendations that consumption of dietary cholesterol should be restricted, citing research that dietary cholesterol does not have a major effect on blood cholesterol levels. The predictable headlines followed: “Back to Eggs and Bacon?”

But, alas, bacon and egg yolks are not health foods.

And we know they’re not health foods because Dr. Ornish says so.

Although people have been told for decades to eat less meat and fat, Americans actually consumed 67 percent more added fat, 39 percent more sugar, and 41 percent more meat in 2000 than they had in 1950 and 24.5 percent more calories than they had in 1970, according to the Agriculture Department. Not surprisingly, we are fatter and unhealthier.

Notice how Ornish lumps added fat, sugar and meat together, attempting to paint them as members of the same murderous gang. It’s a bit like stating that the trio of Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy and Mother Teresa were responsible for more than 50 brutal murders. That’s technically true, but Mother Teresa’s share of the carnage was zero.

But what about that increase in added fat? Did we become fatter and unhealthier by consuming more butter and lard?

Dr. Mike Eades delved into Ornish’s creative uses of food-consumption statistics in a recent post. It’s worth reading the entire post, but here’s the bottom line:

The added fats are mostly vegetable oils – the exact type the vegetarian zealots insist are better for us than animal fats. Ornish reached way back to 1950 to grab figures on meat consumption so he could make a dramatic comparison with today and thus blame meat for obesity rates that began rising … wait for it … 30 years later. Let’s back up instead to 1970, when Americans were still lean on average and not suffering from record rates of diabetes.

Meat consumption rose by 13 percent from 1970 to 2005, but mainly because we eat a lot more chicken. During that same timespan, red meat consumption dropped by 22%, egg consumption dropped by 17%, and dairy consumption dropped a wee bit. Meanwhile, grain consumption increased by 45%.

Keep those figures in mind as we continue quoting Dr. Ornish.

The debate is not as simple as low-fat versus low-carb. Research shows that animal protein may significantly increase the risk of premature mortality from all causes, among them cardiovascular disease, cancer and Type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Ornish includes a link that goes to a study I already analyzed in this post. It’s another one of those number-crunching analyses of two lousy observational studies based on food questionnaires. Other analyses of the same parent studies (The Health Professionals Follow-up Study and the Nurses’ Health Study) have consistently shown that the participants who ate the most meat and eggs were also more likely to smoke, to drink, to be overweight, etc. In other words, we’re comparing adherers vs. non-adherers, not the effects of any one food.

But since Dr. Ornish apparently believes observational studies are rock-solid evidence, perhaps he can explain these results from a study of the Japanese elderly:

  • Nutrient intakes in 94 Japanese centenarians investigated between 1972 and 1973 showed a higher proportion of animal protein to total proteins than in contemporary average Japanese.
  • High intakes of milk and fats and oils had favorable effects on 10-year (1976-1986) survivorship in 422 urban residents aged 69-71.
  • The survivors revealed a longitudinal increase in intakes of animal foods such as eggs, milk, fish and meat over the 10 years.

I guess animal foods will kill you unless you’re Japanese, in which case they extend your life.

Back to Dr. Ornish:

Heavy consumption of saturated fat and trans fats may double the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Once again, notice how he lumps trans fats and saturated fats together. The vegetarian and vegan zealots do that all the time – well, at least now that they’ve admitted trans fats are bad. Back in the 1980s, The Guy From CSPI was pushing trans fats as a safe alternative to animal fats.  Point is, trans fats and saturated fats have very different effects on your health – which Dr. Ornish chooses to ignore.

A study published last March found a 75 percent increase in premature deaths from all causes, and a 400 percent increase in deaths from cancer and Type 2 diabetes, among heavy consumers of animal protein under the age of 65 — those who got 20 percent or more of their calories from animal protein.

Dr. Ornish forgot to mention a couple a couple of facts about that study:

  • It’s yet another observational study based on food questionnaires and is therefore nearly worthless.
  • Data from the same study showed that heavy consumers of animal proteins over the age of 65 had lower mortality and lower rates of heart disease and cancer, not higher.

So if this observational study actually tells us something about the health effects of animal protein (which it doesn’t), we’d have to conclude that meat will kill you until you turn 65, but after age 65 it will save your life.

Back to the good doctor:

Low-carb, high-animal-protein diets promote heart disease via mechanisms other than just their effects on cholesterol levels. Arterial blockages may be caused by animal-protein-induced elevations in free fatty acids and insulin levels and decreased production of endothelial progenitor cells (which help keep arteries clean). Egg yolks and red meat appear to significantly increase the risk of coronary heart disease and cancer due to increased production of trimethylamine N-oxide, or TMAO, a metabolite of meat and egg yolks linked to the clogging of arteries. (Egg whites have neither cholesterol nor TMAO.)

Ornish linked to a study to support that paragraph, so I checked it out. Here’s the abstract:

Mice that were fed a high-fat, high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet were found to have atherosclerosis that was not associated with traditional cardiovascular risk factors.

So I’m going to suggest you avoid (especially if you’re a mouse) the “Atkins Diet” version of laboratory rodent chow, which is a mix of corn starch, sugar, casein, and various fats including soybean oil, corn oil and Crisco.

Animal protein increases IGF-1, an insulin-like growth hormone, and chronic inflammation, an underlying factor in many chronic diseases. Also, red meat is high in Neu5Gc, a tumor-forming sugar that is linked to chronic inflammation and an increased risk of cancer. A plant-based diet may prolong life by blocking the mTOR protein, which is linked to aging.

To support those claims, Ornish referred to another mouse study and the observational study that showed a statistical link between meat and higher mortality up to age 65, but lower mortality after age 65. Since most of us will live to be 65 anyway, I think we can stop worrying about the meat.  Eat it now, and after celebrating your 65th birthday, start eating even more of it.

Are you recognizing the Ornish method of persuasion by now? He’s like the Wizard of Oz, blowing a lot of smoke and bellowing loudly, but really hoping you don’t look behind that curtain. A quick reference to a mouse study (which he doesn’t identify as a mouse study), a quick reference to an observational study (citing one result but skipping the result he doesn’t want you to see), a quick conflation of trans fats and animal fats, and VOILA! – you’ve almost got an argument against eating animal foods.

Ornish continues:

An optimal diet for preventing disease is a whole-foods, plant-based diet that is naturally low in animal protein, harmful fats and refined carbohydrates. What that means in practice is little or no red meat; mostly vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and soy products in their natural forms; very few simple and refined carbohydrates such as sugar and white flour; and sufficient “good fats” such as fish oil or flax oil, seeds and nuts. A healthful diet should be low in “bad fats,” meaning trans fats, saturated fats and hydrogenated fats. Finally, we need more quality and less quantity.

Hmmm … let’s rewrite that paragraph to reflect the actual evidence:

An optimal diet for preventing disease is a whole-foods diet that is naturally low in harmful fats and refined carbohydrates. What that means in practice is meat, eggs, vegetables, fruits and nuts, but little or no whole grains or soy products; very few simple and refined carbohydrates such as sugar and white flour; and sufficient “good fats” such as fish oil, natural animal fats, seeds and nuts. A healthful diet should be low in “bad fats,” meaning trans fats, processed vegetable oils, seed oils, and hydrogenated fats. Aim for quality, and you’ll probably find the quantity takes care of itself.

I didn’t bother to read all the comments on Ornish’s article, but I did come across this one:

So far, 331 comments posted. About 88% either disagree or have a different view than the author. I suppose if you agree with him, then you may not comment. But it is obvious the author is not connecting to his audience. I suspect he is not much different than other vegans I have met: for him, diet is a religion and he cherry picks the science.

Sorry, Dr. Ornish, but the jig is up. People aren’t buying these weak arguments of yours anymore. You can keep bellowing away about the hazards of animal foods, but it’s the information age now and the crowd knows better – and the crowd is loud.

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A couple of news items landed in my inbox recently that aren’t directly related, but they’re both examples of the Vision of The Anointed at work.

I gave a brief summary of The Vision of The Anointed (as described by economist Thomas Sowell in a book by that name) in a speech I called Diet, Health and the Wisdom of Crowds.  If you haven’t seen it, here’s a recap of how The Anointed (who are nearly always members of the intellectual class) operate:

  • The Anointed identify a problem in society
  • The Anointed propose a Grand Plan to fix the problem
  • Because they are so supremely confident in their ideas, The Anointed don’t bother with proof or evidence that the Grand Plan will actually work
  • If possible, The Anointed will impose the Grand Plan on other people (for their own good, of course)
  • The Anointed assume anyone who opposes the Grand Plan is either evil or stupid
  • If the Grand Plan fails, The Anointed will never, ever, ever admit the Grand Plan was wrong

The first news item that reminded me of The Anointed was about an (ahem) study that pinpoints the reason we have an obesity problem in modern America.  Here are some quotes:

A new report puts some of the blame for Americans’ expanding waistlines on the growth of new Wal-Mart supercenters in the US.

Big box retailers, and Wal-Mart in particular, have made cheap, bulk-size junk foods more readily available, and Americans are eating more as a result, argues the report, which was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“We live in an environment with increasingly cheap and readily available junk food,” Charles Courtemanche, an assistant professor of economics at Georgia State University and one of the report’s co-authors, told the Washington Post. “We buy in bulk. We tend to have more food around. It takes more and more discipline and self-control to not let that influence your weight.”

Well, there you have it.  People are fat because there’s more food around.  I remember asking my grandparents when I was a wee child, “Grandma, Grandpa … why aren’t you fat?”  And my grandpa plopped me on his knee and rubbed my head and said, “Well, we would be if we could.  But if you go look over there in the pantry, you’ll see we’re down to a few slices of bread and some carrots.  It happens all the time because there’s no Wal-Mart nearby and we can only afford to eat just as much as we should.”

The researchers found higher rates of obesity in areas dense with supercenters, which have a larger selection of food and also offer other services, such as auto repair. Just one additional supercenter per 100,000 residents increases average body mass index in the area by 0.24 units and the obesity rate by 2.3% points, they found.

Riiiight.  And since correlation proves causation, that means Wal-Mart is making people fat.  It couldn’t be, say, the fact that low-income people are more likely to be fat for all kinds of reasons, and that Wal-Mart super-centers are built where their most loyal customers live.

Notice how nobody who blames obesity on lower food prices can explain why the wealthiest Americans also have the lowest rates of obesity?  If it’s all about affordability, then wealthy people should be the fattest – they can eat whatever they want and as much as they want.  But no, it’s only if we’re talking about poor people that we blame affordability – and thus Wal-Mart.

“These estimates imply that the proliferation of Wal-Mart Supercenters explains 10.5% of the rise in obesity since the late 1980s,” researchers wrote.

Uh-huh.  And I’ll bet you all had no idea what to blame for obesity, then just stumbled across this data during a wide-open search for truth, then came to your astonishing conclusions.

Of course that’s not what happened.  These bozos with PhDs went looking for a reason to blame Wal-Mart and – ta-da! – they found it.  Intellectuals blaming Wal-Mart for the ills of society … now that is a shock.

In case you haven’t noticed, The Anointed are contemptuous of Wal-Mart and the people who shop there.  This article in the Atlantic, written by a Brit, describes the snobbery rather nicely:

As a young man I aspired to live and work in the US because I wanted to be part of a thriving classless society. Of course that was naive. America is not a classless society. I’m not talking about the 1% and the 99%, and I’m not talking about mainstream America and the underclass (shocking though that gulf is). I’m talking about elite disdain for a much larger segment of the country. It’s a cultural thing: American snobbery.

Many of my American friends have an irrationally intense loathing of Wal-Mart, as though delivering bargains to the masses isn’t quite proper.

In America elite and demotic cultures aren’t merging, they are moving farther apart. The elite is ever more confident of its cultural superiority, and the demos, being American, refuses to be condescended to. I don’t think it’s economic pressure that causes much of the country to cling bitterly to guns and their religion, as Obama put it so memorably. It’s a quintessentially American refusal to be looked down on.

[The elite] may use a self-conscious rhetoric of non-judgmentalism – words like ‘inappropriate’ and ‘challenging’, or phrases such as ‘people in need of support’ and ‘people with issues’ – but they have no inhibitions about instructing others about what food they should eat, how they should bring up their children, or what forms of behaviour are healthy.

Well said, my British friend.  You just described The Anointed.

Here are some similar thoughts from an essay in The National Review:

A few weeks ago, I was very much amused by the sight of anti-Wal-Mart protests in Manhattan — where there is no Wal-Mart, and where, if Bill de Blasio et al. have their way, there never will be. Why? Because we’re too enlightened to let our poor neighbors pay lower prices. The head-clutchingly expensive shops up on Fifth and Madison avenues? No protests.

Ironically, the anti-Wal-Mart crusaders want to make life worse for people who are literally counting pennies as they shop for necessities. Study after study has shown that Wal-Mart has meaningfully reduced prices: 3.1 percent overall, by one estimate — with a whopping 9.1 percent cut to the price of groceries. That comes to about $2,300 a year per household, savings that accrue overwhelmingly to people of modest incomes, not to celebrity activists and Ivy League social-justice crusaders.

And here’s a quote from Member of The Anointed Bill Maher explaining how Wal-Mart shoppers choose to vote:

Republicans need to stop saying Barack Obama is an elitist, or looks down on rural people, and just admit you don’t like him because of something he can’t help, something that’s a result of the way he was born. Admit it, you’re not voting for him because he’s smarter than you.

Uh, no, Bill, that’s not quite it.  It’s more along the lines of something Milton Friedman once said:  it’s not intelligent people who are the problem.  The problem is people who are so impressed with their own intelligence, they feel qualified to tell others how to live.

Barack Obama can’t help it if he’s a magna cum laude Harvard grad and you’re a Wal-Mart shopper who resurfaces driveways with your brother-in-law.

Ahh, Bill, so that’s the reason.  Wal-Mart shoppers resent smart people with Ivy League degrees.  Strangely, many of those Wal-Mart shoppers later voted for Mitt Romney, who earned both a law degree and an MBA from Harvard.

Brilliant argument.  Maher chides Republicans for saying Obama is an elitist who looks down on rural people, then makes it perfectly obvious that he, an Obama enthusiast, is an elitist who looks down on rural people.  (I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean Wal-Mart shopper as a compliment.)

Gee, Bill, I would think someone with your towering intellect would recognize how thoroughly you just undermined your own argument.   Of course The Anointed look down on rural people and Wal-Mart shoppers.  And despite what you and your fellow left-wing snots think, the rural Wal-Mart shoppers are smart enough to know it.

That sneering attitude towards “Wal-Mart shoppers” is the reason I can’t stand Bill Maher.  He’s a left-wing snot, and his live audience is full of left-wing snots who whoop and cheer at his snotty comments as a form of congratulating themselves for what they see as their superiority to people who shop at Wal-Mart and resurface driveways.

Even though I spent a chunk of my life as a comedian, I’ll be the first to say that if all the comedians disappeared, life would be less entertaining, but we’d be fine.  If all the magna cum laude graduates from Harvard Law School disappeared, we’d also be fine, if not better off.  But if all the people who know how to resurface driveways or otherwise build and repair stuff disappeared, we’d be screwed.

Anyway, you get the point.  The Anointed view Wal-Mart shoppers as idiots.  And since they’re idiots, the Wal-Mart shoppers are stuffing themselves and getting fat because – thanks to the low prices offered by the evil Wal-Mart – they can now afford to stuff themselves.  I mean, it’s not as if any of them have actually tried to lose weight or anything.

So The Anointed see all these stupid Wal-Mart shoppers getting fat, which means The Anointed must come up with a Grand Plan to fix the problem – and of course, as The Anointed, they aren’t expected to provide any evidence that the plan would work.

The plan that came out in the media recently was proposed in 2010 by none other than Jonathan Gruber.  If the name isn’t familiar, it should be.  Gruber was once called “the architect” of ObamaCare by Democrats … until he embarrassed himself and the party by getting himself caught on video telling the truth about what it took to pass ObamaCare:

Yup, “the architect” was justifying lying to the public about what ObamaCare would actually do.  The voters are stupid, ya see — one of the only two reasons anyone resists a Grand Plan proposed by The Anointed — so you have to lie to them to get a bill passed that’s really for their own good.

Gruber’s statements so perfectly captured the attitude of The Anointed, The Anointed in the Obama administration immediately tried to disown him.

Meanwhile, Bill Maher renewed his credentials as a member of The Anointed by agreeing with Gruber:

On Friday, Bill Maher, host of HBO’s Real Time, brought up Jonathan Gruber, the economist who was an advisor and main architect on Obamacare and got caught crediting the “stupidity” of Americans to get the bill passed. Maher joked they were “soulmates” and likened his fellow Americans to dogs, and didn’t understand why anything Gruber said about the average American’s stupidity was considered controversial.

Maher’s audience applauded wildly, as they always do for their hero.

By the way, the subtitle of Sowell’s book is Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy.  When Bill Maher agrees that you have to lie to the stupid voters to do what’s best for them and his audience of left-wing snots hoots and cheers in response, that’s a fine example of self-congratulation.  They were probably high-fiving each other for not being stupid voters … you know, the kind who shop at Wal-Mart and resurface driveways and don’t understand that we need The Anointed to make important decisions for us … such as what kind of health insurance we’ll be allowed to buy.

That’s the attitude.  Now here’s the kind of Grand Plan the attitude produces:

Jonathan Gruber, long credited as the architect of ObamaCare, once discussed the necessity of taxing fat people by body weight in order to fight obesity.

“Ultimately, what may be needed to address the obesity problem are direct taxes on body weight,” Gruber wrote in an essay for the National Institute for Health Care Management in April 2010, just months after helping design ObamaCare with the president in the Oval Office and during the period in which he was under contract as an Obama administration consultant.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it at least twice:  whenever The Anointed come up with a Grand Plan to fix a problem, it somehow always requires confiscating other people’s money or limiting their freedom to make their own decisions — or both, for a REALLY Grand Plan.

So there’s the mind of The Anointed at work:  people are fat because Wal-Mart has made food too cheap.  All those people who resurface driveways with their brother-in-law are overeating because they can afford to … and because they’re stupid and have no discipline.  But if The Anointed impose direct taxes on bodyweight, the stupid driveway resurfacers will say to themselves, “Well, heck, I can’t afford those taxes!  I’d better stop eating so much of this cheap Wal-Mart food and lose some weight.”

And then once again, The Anointed will have fixed society’s problems.  All hail The Anointed.

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