The Latest ‘Meat Causes Cancer’ Bologna

All week long, readers have been sending emails or posting comments asking about the latest study purporting to show a link between red meat and colon cancer.  Here’s a sample headline from an online article about the study, followed by some quotes:

Red meat ‘increases risk of bowel cancer’

Eating less red meat could prevent 6000 cases of Australia’s second deadliest cancer every year, experts claim. They say studies confirm that consuming roast beef, lamb and pork increases your risk of developing bowel cancer.

The World Cancer Research Fund said there was convincing evidence of a link between bowel cancer and red meat in its latest report, which combines existing research with 10 new studies.  It had already warned people to avoid eating processed meats and restrict their weekly intake of red meat to five medium portions – or 500g – to lessen the likelihood of developing bowel cancer.

Pretty scary so far, eh?  Eating meat raises your risk of bowel cancer, so you’d better cut back on the stuff.  Now check out this quote:

Milk appears to cut the risk of bowel cancer, but the WCRF does not recommend dairy foods because evidence for overall cancer risk is unclear.

Apparently the WCRF doesn’t view consistency as a necessary trait for researchers.  Meat raises your risk of cancer, so you’d better cut back.  Milk reduces your risk of cancer, but we’re not going recommend milk, because … uh … well … because the evidence on milk is unclear! Yeah, that’s how we get around that one!

The implication, of course, is that the evidence linking red meat to colon cancer is clear.  So is it?

Hardly.  In my Science For Smart People speech, I listed several critical-thinking questions we need to ask when some new study warns that this-or-that food is going to kill us.  If you haven’t seen the speech, you may want to give it a look before continuing.

Let’s examine this latest study and ask ourselves those questions.  (By the way, if you’re not as prone to banging your head on your desk as I am, you can download and read the full WCRF document.)

Q:  Is this a controlled clinical study, or an observational study?

A:  The WCRF study is a meta-analysis of other observational studies.  In other words, they took the data from some observational studies and pooled the results.  So in effect, this is yet another observational study.  As I explained in the speech, observational studies at best provide evidence for a hypothesis.  They don’t even come close to proving cause and effect.  That alone means you could pretty much write off the sensational headlines and head out for a nice steak dinner. But what the heck, let’s continue.

Q:  If A and B are linked, is possible that B causes A?

A:  I’m going to step out on a limb here and conclude that developing colon cancer doesn’t cause people to eat more red meat.

Q:  If A and B are linked, is it possible that A is connected to B because they’re both caused by C?

A:  Dern tootin’ it’s possible.  Health-conscious people — who are different in many ways from their I-don’t-give-a-hoot peers — avoid what they’re told is bad for them and gravitate towards what they’re told is good for them.  Even if the WCRF researchers really and truly found a meaningful link between red meat and colon cancer (which they didn’t), it could simply mean that health-conscious people eat less red meat because they believe it’s bad for their health.

Q:  Did the researchers control their variables?

A:  Nope.  Just as with a recent study I mentioned in my speech, the studies included in the meta-analysis lumped red meat and processed meat together.  Here’s a quote from the full text:

The summary relative risk was 1.17 for colorectal cancer for each 100g/day increase in red and processed meats … The definition of red meat varied between the studies. Red meat was described by the studies as fresh red meat, red meat or a combined exposure of beef, pork and lamb.

In other words, we’re putting burgers, pizza, burritos, hog dogs, deli sandwiches, pigs in a blanket, prime ribs, pork chops, filets with béarnaise and racks of lamb with mint sauce all into one category.  Whole foods or processed foods that are typically served with a heapin’ helping of white flour … all the same to us.

To be fair to the WCRF researchers, it would be nearly impossible to make the distinction anyway, since the data came from observational studies that were based on food-recall surveys.  Which leads to another critical-thinking question I included in the original draft of my Science For Smart People speech, but deleted to stay within my allotted time:

Q:  Is the data reliable?

A:  HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!  Sure, about as reliable as a congressional budget forecast.  The largest study included in this meta-analysis (and therefore given the most statistical weight) was the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, which I analyzed in a long post nearly two years ago.  Here’s how the data for that study was gathered:

Throughout 1995 and 1996, the investigators mailed a food-frequency questionnaire to 3.5 million members of the American Association of Retired Persons, all aged 50 to 69, who lived in six states (California, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Carolina, Louisiana), plus two metro areas (Detroit and Atlanta).

Only 17% of those who received the surveys responded.  They were overwhelmingly white, affluent and (of course) elderly.  The investigators decided this wasn’t a problem because “a shifting and widening of the intake distributions among respondents compensated for the less-than-anticipated response rate.”  Uh-huh.

Ten years later, similar food-recall surveys were sent out again, along with questions about any health and medical issues the respondents may have experienced.  From these two data sets — gathered ten years apart — the researchers reached their conclusions.

Now, about those food surveys … have you ever taken one?  I have, because I was required to by an employer.  My co-workers and I found the questions impossible to answer accurately, so we just started making up the answers.  Then we went out for happy hour (during which none of us recorded our food intakes).  I’ve reproduced part of the NIH-AARP food questionnaire below:

Over the last 12 months, how often did you eat the following foods? (Ignore any recent changes.)

Whole milk (4%), NOT in coffee, NOT on cereal: Never | 1-6 per year | 7-11 per year | 1 per month | 2-3 per month | 1-2 per week | 3-4 per week | 5-6 per week | 1 per day | 2-3 per day | 4-5 per day | 6+ per day. Portion size: less than ½ cup | ½ to 1 cup | more than 1 cup.

Breads or dinner rolls, NOT INCLUDING ON SANDWICHES: Never | 1-6 per year | 7-11 per year | 1 per month | 2-3 per month | 1-2 per week | 3-4 per week | 5-6 per week | 1 per day | 2-3 per day | 4-5 per day | 6+ per day. Portion size: less than 1 slice or roll | 1 or 2 slices or rolls | more than 2 slices or rolls.

Ground beef in mixtures such as tacos, burritos, meatballs, casseroles, chili, meatloaf: Never | 1-6 per year | 7-11 per year | 1 per month | 2-3 per month | 1-2 per week | 3-4 per week | 5-6 per week | 1 per day | 2-3 per day | 4-5 per day | 6+ per day. Portion size: less than 3 ounces | 3 to 7 ounces | more than 7 ounces.

Could you answer those questions accurately about your diet for the entire previous year?  No, I didn’t think so.  But the WCRF researchers expect us to believe that based on questionnaires like this one, they can determine what people eat accurately enough to link various foods to minor changes in cancer rates.  (Yes, minor changes … we’ll get to that soon.)

But let’s suppose for the sake of argument that we’re looking at accurate dietary information and move on …

Q:  If a scientist proposes that A causes B, do we find that connection between A and B consistently and repeatedly, or are there glaring exceptions?

A:  Allow me to quote the WCRF document.  Here’s what they said about the first group of studies they analyzed:

Sixteen cohort studies on colorectal, or if not available colon cancer risk were identified. Eleven studies provided sufficient data to be included in the highest versus lowest analysis. Nine studies reported an increased risk for the highest versus lowest processed meat comparison, one was statistically significant. One study observed no association. In addition, positive associations were observed in men, and in women in the study that reported on the subgroups separately. Only the result in men was statistically significant.

Out of 11 studies with sufficient data, nine reported higher cancer rates for heavy meat-eaters … but only one was statistically significant, and only if they teased out the data for men separately.  I guess women can eat all the red meat they want, but men will die of cancer if they chow down on burgers.  The paragraph above also means, by the way, that two studies with “sufficient data” showed no increase in cancer rates among heavy meat-eaters.

Here’s the official word on the second group of studies analyzed:

Twelve cohort studies on colorectal cancer risk were identified and included in the highest versus lowest forest plot. Eight studies reported an increased risk for the highest versus lowest red meat comparison, one was borderline significant. Two studies reported no association and two studies observed a statistically non-significant inverse association.

Head.  Bang.  On.  Desk.

Of the eight studies that showed an increase in colon cancer among heavier meat-eaters, apparently only one was “borderline significant” — it’s difficult to tell, since the sentence is poorly written.  Two studies showed no increase, and two other showed a slight decrease in cancer rates among heavy meat-eaters.  That means one-third of the studies — one-third! — failed to show a correlation between eating red meat (and processed meat) and colon cancer.  If red (and processed) meat causes colon cancer, how can that possibly be?  Were people in one-third of these studies somehow immune to red meat’s cancer-causing effects?

So there’s your evidence from the studies the researchers chose.  Before we move on, here’s the conclusion from another meta-analysis of 14 studies published in 2004:

Greater intake of either red meat (excluding processed meat) or processed meat was not related to colorectal cancer risk.

So I’m guessing if we could somehow overcome cherry-picking and publication bias, even more than a third of the studies would fail to show a link between meat and colon cancer.  A researcher who criticized a previous WCRF report certainly seemed to think there was some cherry-picking going on.  Here’s part of what he wrote in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:

The report omits 13 cohort studies on red meat and colorectal cancer with a total of 1,578,970 subjects, including a very large 1992 study by the American Cancer Society and studies by Hirayama, Heilbrun et al, Goldbohm et al, Knekt et al, Gaard et al, Hsing et al, Jansen et al, Flood et al, Kojima et al, Chao et al, and Sato et al. All but 2 of these studies found no significant association with red meat.

The report omits the follow-up of 5 groups of vegetarians compared with socially matched omnivores by Key et al. They found no difference in mortality from colorectal cancer.

But back to the current WCRF analysis … Below, I’ve copied some charts that were included in the full text of the report.  Take a look at this one:

In the chart above, you’re seeing the relative risk of developing colon cancer for each 100 grams of red (and processed) meat consumed each day.  The black vertical line represents a relative risk of 1.0 – that is, a neutral risk.  Notice that in two of the studies (Lee and Pietinen), each 100-gram increase in red (and processed) consumption was correlated with a lower risk of colon cancer.  Now look at the last figure labeled Overall.  That’s the statistical average for all the studies, and it’s the figure being trumpeted by the researchers.

Yup, based on some studies that showed a decrease in colon cancer among meat-eaters and other studies that showed an increase, the WCRF folks declared that we should all be cutting back on red (and processed) meats.

Now here’s the chart showing the dose-response change in relative risk for women:

Notice anything interesting there?  Three of the studies showed cancer rates going down as meat consumption went up.  The others showed a very slight increase in cancer rates.  The average (for what it’s worth, which isn’t much) was essentially no change at all.

But wait, it gets even better.  The chart below shows what happened to rates of colon cancer in several of the studies as meat consumption went up:

This is laughable … look at the studies by Lee, Wei and Jarvinen.  Rates of colon cancer went up, then down again as meat consumption rose.  I swear, next time I have lunch in a restaurant and see someone eating meat, I’ll feel obligated to offer a warning:

“Excuse me, but did you just eat some red (or processed) meat?”

“Why yes, I did eat some red (or processed) meat.  So what?”

“Well, you better eat more red (or processed) meat for dinner, and lots of it.  You don’t want to develop colon cancer.”

Rather than simply declare the data inconsistent — which it clearly is — the researchers plugged their pooled data into Excel, came up with a tiny average increase in colon cancer risk as meat consumption went up, then called a press conference.  (Then probably sent out more fund-raising letters.)  But again for the sake of argument, let’s assume that tiny average increase represents something meaningful and ask our next question:

Q:  What was the actual difference?

A:  The WCRF people proclaimed that the average relative risk of developing colon cancer among heavier meat-eaters (in the studies they chose to include) was 1.17, otherwise known as a 17% increase.  Sounds kind of impressive, huh?  A lot of media reporters certainly thought so.  But what does that actually mean?  In the Science For Smart People speech, I explained that the actual difference — otherwise known as absolute risk — means subtraction.  Relative risk is calculated using division, which usually produces a more impressive (or more frightening) number.

According to some data I found online, the lifetime odds of developing colon cancer in America are 1 in 20.  So with a little Excel magic, I extended the figures to a population large enough to avoid comparing fractions of people.  Here’s how it would work out if eating red (and processed) meat really and truly produced a 17% increase in colon cancer:

In a population of 4,000 Americans, there would be about 100 lifetime cases of colon cancer among people with a lower intake of red meat, and about 117 lifetime cases of colon cancer among people with a higher intake of red meat.  So the actual difference (117 – 100) would be 17 additional cases of colon cancer for every 4,000 people.  I’m pretty sure I’ll beat those odds, especially since the relative risk was calculated using unreliable and inconsistent data.

Q:  Do the results actually support the conclusions reached by the investigators?

Let’s tally up the score, shall we?  The WCRF analysis is 1) based on observational studies that 2) lumped red meat and processed meat in the same category and 3) relied on food surveys that are notoriously inaccurate.  The WCRF took the results of those observational studies, which 4) did not show a consistent link between red meat and colon cancer, and averaged the results in order to produce 5) a small increase in relative risk that translates to 6) a meaningless rise in absolute risk.

Based on that analysis, the researchers declared that there is now convincing evidence that red meat increases the risk of developing cancer.

Like I concluded in my speech:  Scientists Are Freakin’ Liars.

One of the media articles I read about the study included this blaring headline:

Scientists confirm direct link between bowel cancer and red meat consumption

So I guess it’s time to reach another conclusion:  Journalists Are Freakin’ Idiots.


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140 thoughts on “The Latest ‘Meat Causes Cancer’ Bologna

  1. Erik

    Whenever scientists want to see if a certain product causes cancer, they feed an enormous amount to some animal and see if the animal gets cancer. Lions eat lots of red meat. Do lions tend to suffer from bouts of colorectal cancer?

    If you want to do an observational / association study which proves that “natural eating” is unnatural, go to the type of grocery store in your area where vegans hang out and count the number of “lost cat” signs on their bulletin board. Hey, pal. Your cat isn’t “lost”. It ran off searching for food.

    Or searching for an owner who knows what “food” means.

  2. Richard David Feinman

    The statistical rule is that if the error bar for confidence interval (the horizontal bar) crosses the 1.0 line then there is no effect. What you have here is, as I quoted in my blog, is “that which is not” which comes from IGulliver’s Travels. In one of the countries he visited, the inhabitants referred to “That which is not” because their language did not have a word for lying.

    So they’re drawing conclusions from a bunch of non-significant studies. That’s scientific malpractice.

  3. Bean

    Just one thing, please don’t tar all “scientists” with the same brush – there are plenty of real scientists reading your blog (myself being one of them), who demand a high level of proof and convincing data to support conclusions, who can and do read papers critically and are willing to change pre-conceived notions when new data arises that is convincing and properly analyzed. We are equally disgusted at what passes for “nutrition research”.

    Sometimes your message to “be critical and analyze the science” becomes simplified – often by the commenters here and on other low-carb or paleo sites – to saying that all scientists are out to fool them and none of us could research our way out of a paper bag. It’s simply not true, many (most) of us are as critical and demanding of ourselves and other researchers as you and your readers are – and it doesn’t matter that my field of research has nothing to do with nutrition. It’s disheartening to hear all this vitriol directed at a pretty diverse group (i.e., scientists in general) many of whom are living up to your expectations of analysis, critical thinking, and honesty, and some of whom, yes, are doing a crappy job.

    Yes, of course you’re right on that. In the speech, I clarified that I don’t mean all scientists or even most of them. The “scientists are freakin’ liars” phrase is inflammatory, but serves a purpose: far too many people are so awe-struck when they hear the titles “doctor” or “scientist,” their cease all critical thinking. I want people to be skeptical, and they’re more likely to be skeptical if they’re not in awe of white coats.

  4. Amy

    WARNING: 1/2 of critical thinkers report a migraine in relation to scientific study. We in the scientific community advise not thinking criticaly.

    HeHe Great critical thinking skills Tom. I loved your speech. My final critical thinking paper was on the joke of the lipid hypothesis. Got an A, and my prof. is considering going low carb because of it.

    If you can get a professor to re-think the issue, that’s an accomplishment.

  5. Chris

    Nice deconstruction. A technical note on the meta-analysis: the horizontal lines running through the point estimates are confidence intervals. If they intersect the black vertical line, than that means the estimate is not statistically significant (in other words, the relative risk is essentially 1.0, indicating no effect). So 7 out of the 8 studies can be dismissed as showing no effect. The biggest one (the NIH-AARP one?) is thus driving the overall effect. Based on your assessment of the content of the questionnaire used in that study, we could just as easily attribute the ’cause’ of colorectal cancer to flour or corn (as you implied).

    If we want to attribute malfeasance to the authors, we could say that they rigged it to come out this way (maybe left out just enough studies to prevent the overall effect from getting dragged into the ‘no-effect’ line). There are methods for conducting more rigorous meta-analyses, which the authors apparently disregarded.

    On a related note, wonder if you seen this (raising HDL by using drugs does not protect against heart disease), and what your perspective on it might be:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/27/health/policy/27heart.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha2

    I did see that one. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (probably in a post): High HDL is probably a marker for cardiovascular health, not health itself.

  6. CeeBee

    I just looked at that EJIM article about nutrition and Alzheimer’s Disease that Be posted. I didn’t finish reading it because I started getting a little emotional when I got to the part about cholesterol and AD.

    You see, my wonderful husband started taking statins about 15 years ago, because his cholesterol was a bit high and his father had died of a heart attack at a relatively young age. Beyond that, he had NO other risk factors for heart disease. He doesn’t smoke, has always been at a healthy weight, exercises regularly, no high blood pressure, no blood sugar issues, etc. He’s a very health-conscious guy.

    He took the statins regularly for about 14 years, until I was able to convince him to drop them last year. It was a hard sell, because he was so sure that keeping the cholesterol low was so good for him. The problem was, I had been noticing that he was having some weird memory lapses which he wouldn’t admit. I read about the possible connection between statin drugs and dementia and that they were not shown to be helpful in preventing heart disease in older adults. After about a month off the drugs even he admitted that his memory had improved. He’s doing very well now.

    It makes me sick to think that what my husband did in order to have a long and healthy life might have actually increased his chances for developing dementia, which would take him away from us years before his death. I only hope that there are no long-lasting consequences from all those years that he did take the drugs.

    I will go back and read the entire article when I’m not so stirred up, and I look forward to reading your comments about it.

    Oh, and one thing my husband would ask me when we talked about the statin issue is why I thought I “knew more about statins than the doctor.” NOW he wonders why I don’t start my own clinic! 🙂

    I can’t prove it, of course, but I believe years of taking Lipitor is at least partly why my dad started experiencing memory issues in his late 60s. What kills me is that two of my good friends are still on the stuff — I’m just a guy they know, whereas their doctors are (all hold your breath in awe) DOCTORS and must know what’s best. If either of them starts having memory issues 10 years from now, I’ll be able to wag my finger and say “I told ya!” without threatening the friendship — because they’ll forget it the next day.

  7. Juba Capoeira

    Hehe, I have to admit… Even when I didn’t realize that red meat is super good for me, if you would have put a questionnaire in front of me asking how much red meat I’ve consumed, I’m pretty sure I would inflate the value as I thought about the last times I’d had steak. Everyone wishes they ate more red meat, and silly “researchers” have some crusade against yummy, wholesome food. Makes me angry and makes me want to eat some steak.

    Eat that steak. You’ll feel better.

  8. Milton

    I wonder how many of the people who developed cancer had low cholesterol, and how many of those were taking statins.

    Good question, but I’d bet nobody knows.

  9. Amy Dungan

    I really should have put on a helmet before I sat down at the computer. My forehead is gonna be black and blue by tomorrow. (It’s been one of those days.)

    Maybe your scientist t-shirt should also include the “journalists are freakin’ idiots” line.

    I think that may be the subtitle.

  10. Robinowitz

    Thanks, Tom! I’ll also be grateful for all the steaks, too (and butter, cream, eggs;). My baby boy is going to feel great eating full fat and natural meats and dairy–lucky kid!

  11. Nina

    Robinowitz

    Could it also be partly due to some of the trans fats in the foods, if they were from fast food rather than home made sources?

    Nina

  12. tracker

    @Vanessa, yeah, I’m getting the idea if they tell you something is bad and don’t eat it, you should eat it and avoid whatever they say is good.

    The thing is, *most* Americans don’t eat meat without bread. Lunch meat is typically consumed on bread. Burgers are too. Even bacon is typically consumed with a biscuit or toast. So, really one could draw the conclusion that wheat causes colon cancer. Since they’ve pushed the “whole grain” thing, this wouldn’t surprise me at all. Eades had a post that pointed to fiber as the culprit and I’m sure you’ve read it. http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/fiber/a-cautionary-tale-of-mucus-fore-and-aft/

    I’ve never heard of anyone having an allergy to meat. It’s also impossible for people to be allergic to tree nuts that grow in Africa. That’s because anyone with a genetic pre-disposition to it, would not be here for very obvious reasons. As they say, believe nothing that you read and only half of what you see because it was probably Photoshopped.

    Maybe we all need helmets before reading this stuff. Of course my desk is so cluttered with papers, they sort of soften the blows.

  13. Peggy Holloway

    My stepfather has openly derided my siblings and I (who are all HFLC eaters) when we visit my mother for our diets. He is a believer in following everything that the Mayo Clinic promotes. Last summer, we were all breakfasting on a baked omelet with cheese and turned down the OJ and cinnamon rolls. (My mother, who “gets it” to a degree always says “I will never believe that fruit isn’t healthy” as she uses her daily glass of juice to wash down her handful of pills). My stepfather made a show of eating a large bowl of cereal with skim milk and continued to blather on about how much fruit he eats and how they have cut way back on red meat.
    Guess who had a quadruple-bypass a month later?
    Of course, he attributed to having eaten too many steaks years ago.
    A friend who has been on an Ornish-style diet for almost 15 years was discovered to have a 98% occluded coronary artery a year ago just days before he probably would have had a serious heart attack. He is now on 2 statins he says, because “diet and exercise didn’t work.” He also says that the problem is that he didn’t go on the low-fat soon enough! (The last time we went out to eat together, although we have been doing that for years and I’ve been HFLC for more than 11 of them, he couldn’t believe that I didn’t order anything when we stopped for frozen custard at Culver’s after dinner. “You aren’t having anything.” “No, I don’t eat sugar.” “What, never?” Sigh)
    These people are causing me to get the large lump on my forehead.
    Happily, my siblings and offspring have converted. It was my daughter who made a special date to come to my house so I could see “Fathead” on her Netflix account.

    I pointed out to a vegan who was trolling the blog that I know some vegans with major health issues, including cancer. He replied that it’s only because they didn’t become vegans at a young age … to which I replied that I’m 52 and he should therefore stop preaching at me, since it’s already too late. And then he went away.

  14. Peggy Holloway

    Apologies for the grammar and syntax issues above! We did not visit my mother for our diets and I realize that my stepfather derided my siblings and me. Geesh. It must be reading about those “studies” that caused my brain to fry.

    No problem. I followed.

  15. John Hunter

    A while back i had looked at a science article proclaiming that circumcision helped prevent HIV transmission. Wish i could still find the links. The article touted that circumcision would slash HIV rates in Africa. They had scary looking percentages of the uncircumcised having higher infection rates. Something like a third more. Still kind of seems like playing Russian roulette with 2 bullets vs 1 with a 10 pull minimum. Especially when there are methods that are nearly 100% effective. This all seemed to fly in the face of the USA’s high rate of circumcision and the HIV rate. I know some of that accounts for needle usage, but really, how could they pull that one off. So i went to a link detailing the study. Turns out the study was so effective, they decided to end it early at 6 months. It was a great breakthrough and something needed to be done right away! Further in, we found out that many of those circumcised dropped out of the study. Hmmm. Why? Also turns out that most of those who were circumcised, were out of commission, so to speak, for 3-4 weeks. A third of those circumcised were out for 3 months or more. A few were even out for the whole 6 months. Of course they were still figured into the study as uninfected. Seems like a house of crumbling cards. I had also read, but was unable to confirm, that the circumcised group was given education on safe sex practices! Seems like some doctors were looking for money to do unnecessary surgeries in a remote area of the world, where public records are vague at best. Scientist and doctors are freakin liars!

    Follow the money …

  16. Robinowitz

    Like previous posters have said, if I want to know WHAT to eat I do just the opposite of what the mainstream media suggests these days. I never used to be this way until reading Eades, Taubes, Naughton.

    Recently, my step-father was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer. My LCHF-eating mom is determined to clean up his diet and help him to live as long as he can…but you’d better believe she knows that the mainstream recommendations for how he should be eating are what she’ll mostly avoid. Same if he had diabetes–they say eat lots of carbs and take insulin to keep your blood sugar down. Now I know in most cases to just skip the middleman (insulin) by just eating a lower carb high fat diet. I’m glad my mom knows how to research (she’s a journalist and attorney), because she’s always forged her own path to find alternative solutions to health issues. I’m lucky she’s my mom, because she makes me be open to alternatives, too. I know she’ll be met with opposition if she decides to go against mainstream cancer treatments (trying chemo first next week). But I think if there’s any hope for my step-dad that it’s probably going to be by going against the grain, so to speak:)

  17. Robinowitz

    Forgot to mention that my step-dad ate a high carb diet for 60 years, so the damage was done long ago. He also ate lots of red meat in the form of burritos, pizza, burgers with buns, etc. But I’m sure doctors would say it’s the high fat content of his past diet that lead to this. Surely it’s not all those grains or sugars that are responsible! Even 2 years of low-carb eating hasn’t prevented what was already happening in his body. Makes me want to keep myself, my husband, and baby on the best diet we can eat! And I’m lucky for the online resources available today–so much info out there. Grateful to have people like you breaking all these complex studies apart…it makes it easier to wade through the sea of nutrition MIS-information.

    And if I get to my 60s and find we’ve been wrong about all this LCHF stuff, I’d be very surprised. I’m betting my life on this, but at least I feel I’m finally on the winning side.

    I wish your step-father all the best and a full recovery. If LCHF turns out to be wrong, I’ll be as surprised as anyone, but I’ll be grateful for all the steaks.

  18. Robinowitz

    Nina: yes, I’m sure trans fats were involved in the development of my step-dad’s cancer, as well as a variety of other lifestyle factors (stressful job, taking care of his late wife who also died of cancer, etc.). If only he’d known about all this stuff 30 years ago, but hopefully it’s not to late to make some difference in his health.

  19. CeeBee

    I just looked at that EJIM article about nutrition and Alzheimer’s Disease that Be posted. I didn’t finish reading it because I started getting a little emotional when I got to the part about cholesterol and AD.

    You see, my wonderful husband started taking statins about 15 years ago, because his cholesterol was a bit high and his father had died of a heart attack at a relatively young age. Beyond that, he had NO other risk factors for heart disease. He doesn’t smoke, has always been at a healthy weight, exercises regularly, no high blood pressure, no blood sugar issues, etc. He’s a very health-conscious guy.

    He took the statins regularly for about 14 years, until I was able to convince him to drop them last year. It was a hard sell, because he was so sure that keeping the cholesterol low was so good for him. The problem was, I had been noticing that he was having some weird memory lapses which he wouldn’t admit. I read about the possible connection between statin drugs and dementia and that they were not shown to be helpful in preventing heart disease in older adults. After about a month off the drugs even he admitted that his memory had improved. He’s doing very well now.

    It makes me sick to think that what my husband did in order to have a long and healthy life might have actually increased his chances for developing dementia, which would take him away from us years before his death. I only hope that there are no long-lasting consequences from all those years that he did take the drugs.

    I will go back and read the entire article when I’m not so stirred up, and I look forward to reading your comments about it.

    Oh, and one thing my husband would ask me when we talked about the statin issue is why I thought I “knew more about statins than the doctor.” NOW he wonders why I don’t start my own clinic! 🙂

    I can’t prove it, of course, but I believe years of taking Lipitor is at least partly why my dad started experiencing memory issues in his late 60s. What kills me is that two of my good friends are still on the stuff — I’m just a guy they know, whereas their doctors are (all hold your breath in awe) DOCTORS and must know what’s best. If either of them starts having memory issues 10 years from now, I’ll be able to wag my finger and say “I told ya!” without threatening the friendship — because they’ll forget it the next day.

  20. Robinowitz

    Thanks, Tom! I’ll also be grateful for all the steaks, too (and butter, cream, eggs;). My baby boy is going to feel great eating full fat and natural meats and dairy–lucky kid!

  21. Nina

    Robinowitz

    Could it also be partly due to some of the trans fats in the foods, if they were from fast food rather than home made sources?

    Nina

  22. tracker

    @Vanessa, yeah, I’m getting the idea if they tell you something is bad and don’t eat it, you should eat it and avoid whatever they say is good.

    The thing is, *most* Americans don’t eat meat without bread. Lunch meat is typically consumed on bread. Burgers are too. Even bacon is typically consumed with a biscuit or toast. So, really one could draw the conclusion that wheat causes colon cancer. Since they’ve pushed the “whole grain” thing, this wouldn’t surprise me at all. Eades had a post that pointed to fiber as the culprit and I’m sure you’ve read it. http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/fiber/a-cautionary-tale-of-mucus-fore-and-aft/

    I’ve never heard of anyone having an allergy to meat. It’s also impossible for people to be allergic to tree nuts that grow in Africa. That’s because anyone with a genetic pre-disposition to it, would not be here for very obvious reasons. As they say, believe nothing that you read and only half of what you see because it was probably Photoshopped.

    Maybe we all need helmets before reading this stuff. Of course my desk is so cluttered with papers, they sort of soften the blows.

  23. Gerard

    Tom or anyone – regarding dangers of food. Im trying extream low carb for all this month. 3 days into on 20g a day. Quit the booze for the time being too. The lowering the carb intake has been the easy bit – not noticable.

    I know this goes off the subject a little but – I considered low carb 50g to 70g per day with a bit of fruit. Now its just fish, steak, coffee with heavy cream, and variety of non starchy vegetables and salad. I might have the od sour citrus to balance out blood pH too.

    I feel fine eating 900 cals & 20g of carb a day – but is it safe to go this low for the long term? Is it safe to continue short intense workouts like this? I walked 8 kilometres through Sydney last night instead of going to the pub with mates – felt ok, not hungry/tired in the least.

    It’s safe to go very low-carb long-term, yes. Some people insist they do better if they eat higher-carb one day per week — Tim Ferriss writes about that in “The 4-Hour Body,” but I’ve been staying under 50 grams almost every day for a long time now, and it hasn’t hurt my workout sessions or my long evening walks.

  24. Peggy Holloway

    My stepfather has openly derided my siblings and I (who are all HFLC eaters) when we visit my mother for our diets. He is a believer in following everything that the Mayo Clinic promotes. Last summer, we were all breakfasting on a baked omelet with cheese and turned down the OJ and cinnamon rolls. (My mother, who “gets it” to a degree always says “I will never believe that fruit isn’t healthy” as she uses her daily glass of juice to wash down her handful of pills). My stepfather made a show of eating a large bowl of cereal with skim milk and continued to blather on about how much fruit he eats and how they have cut way back on red meat.
    Guess who had a quadruple-bypass a month later?
    Of course, he attributed to having eaten too many steaks years ago.
    A friend who has been on an Ornish-style diet for almost 15 years was discovered to have a 98% occluded coronary artery a year ago just days before he probably would have had a serious heart attack. He is now on 2 statins he says, because “diet and exercise didn’t work.” He also says that the problem is that he didn’t go on the low-fat soon enough! (The last time we went out to eat together, although we have been doing that for years and I’ve been HFLC for more than 11 of them, he couldn’t believe that I didn’t order anything when we stopped for frozen custard at Culver’s after dinner. “You aren’t having anything.” “No, I don’t eat sugar.” “What, never?” Sigh)
    These people are causing me to get the large lump on my forehead.
    Happily, my siblings and offspring have converted. It was my daughter who made a special date to come to my house so I could see “Fathead” on her Netflix account.

    I pointed out to a vegan who was trolling the blog that I know some vegans with major health issues, including cancer. He replied that it’s only because they didn’t become vegans at a young age … to which I replied that I’m 52 and he should therefore stop preaching at me, since it’s already too late. And then he went away.

  25. Peggy Holloway

    Apologies for the grammar and syntax issues above! We did not visit my mother for our diets and I realize that my stepfather derided my siblings and me. Geesh. It must be reading about those “studies” that caused my brain to fry.

    No problem. I followed.

  26. Robinowitz

    Nina: yes, I’m sure trans fats were involved in the development of my step-dad’s cancer, as well as a variety of other lifestyle factors (stressful job, taking care of his late wife who also died of cancer, etc.). If only he’d known about all this stuff 30 years ago, but hopefully it’s not to late to make some difference in his health.

  27. Firebird

    Tom, be careful with these vegans. You’re going to make their heads explode. Granted, it’d be like hitting a pinata, but still, you don’t need a murder rap.

    I’d insist to the court that we are what we eat, so I was only killing vegetables.

  28. Firebird

    @ Peggy, a nice sweet dessert is a simple mixture of cream cheese (or Neufchatel), cream, vanilla extract (or other flavorings). I use Splenda, but xylitol will work fine, too. 1/2 package of the cheese, 1 Cup of the cream, and everything else taste. Whip it up in a blender, refrigerate or freeze. Low/no carb cheese cake.

  29. Firebird

    My theory on nut allergies is GMO and/or pesticides.

    Perhaps, but I also think damaged intestines figure into it.

  30. Tim

    Thanks for posting this Tom. I must have been one of these people that emailed you with an article on the topic. You have well and truly answered that email.

    Thank you

    Thank you and the other readers for bringing it to my attention. I’d say easily half my posts these days are based in reader input and suggestions.

  31. Gerard

    Tom or anyone – regarding dangers of food. Im trying extream low carb for all this month. 3 days into on 20g a day. Quit the booze for the time being too. The lowering the carb intake has been the easy bit – not noticable.

    I know this goes off the subject a little but – I considered low carb 50g to 70g per day with a bit of fruit. Now its just fish, steak, coffee with heavy cream, and variety of non starchy vegetables and salad. I might have the od sour citrus to balance out blood pH too.

    I feel fine eating 900 cals & 20g of carb a day – but is it safe to go this low for the long term? Is it safe to continue short intense workouts like this? I walked 8 kilometres through Sydney last night instead of going to the pub with mates – felt ok, not hungry/tired in the least.

    It’s safe to go very low-carb long-term, yes. Some people insist they do better if they eat higher-carb one day per week — Tim Ferriss writes about that in “The 4-Hour Body,” but I’ve been staying under 50 grams almost every day for a long time now, and it hasn’t hurt my workout sessions or my long evening walks.

  32. Dana

    I have done the online survey bit to make a few extra bucks here and there or get free samples or whatever. And just answering a 20-question survey about my air freshener habits is enough to make me want to claw my eyes out. I cannot imagine answering one that asks me questions about my eating habits in that great of detail. And I would NEVER get the answers right.

    What really ticks me off about this sort of thing, this conducting an observational study and then pretending it’s taught us anything, is this sort of nonsense comes from the same people who don’t believe fat people when we tell them that we actually don’t eat a lot of food because, THEIR response, fat people are notorious for “underestimating” our food intake.

    Well then a bunch of old people are underestimating *their* food intake or otherwise getting it wrong. The Fatty Experts cannot have it both ways.

  33. Dana

    Also, Tim Ferriss says he recommends legumes on his 4HB diet because “most low-carbers” wind up fatigued because they’re not eating enough calories. I admit it’s easy to go too low on calories when you’re in ketosis and not hungry anyway, but he says it’s because they do things like eat a cup of broccoli instead of a cup of potatoes or whatever. And I’m like, “So… eat more fat?” but apparently that didn’t much enter into his calculations anywhere. Actually he’s kind of paranoid about all the evil toxins that are in animal fat. I don’t worry about it. I reason that if I get myself healthy so that my liver is working properly (assuming it’s not–I suspect perhaps mild fatty liver, but my enzymes were normal when I got tested last year), my liver can then do its job and the toxins won’t be a big deal. But if I don’t eat what I need to eat, no amount of avoiding toxins will help me.

    So… The good news is he makes it very clear early in the book that he could be totally wrong about everything he says and, in any case, he encourages his readers to do their own self-experimentation. We each have to find out what works for us individually–and as long as we’re getting our nutritional requirements met, there are so many variations our diets can take.

    (The problem with saying “no one diet works for everybody” is that without qualifications it leaves one open to claiming that nutritionally deficient diets can “work” for some people. Uh, no. Try again…)

    I’d say it’s more that some people can survive nutritionally deficient diets, but I agree with Ferriss that we each need to do some experimenting.

  34. Firebird

    Tom, be careful with these vegans. You’re going to make their heads explode. Granted, it’d be like hitting a pinata, but still, you don’t need a murder rap.

    I’d insist to the court that we are what we eat, so I was only killing vegetables.

  35. Firebird

    @ Peggy, a nice sweet dessert is a simple mixture of cream cheese (or Neufchatel), cream, vanilla extract (or other flavorings). I use Splenda, but xylitol will work fine, too. 1/2 package of the cheese, 1 Cup of the cream, and everything else taste. Whip it up in a blender, refrigerate or freeze. Low/no carb cheese cake.

  36. Firebird

    My theory on nut allergies is GMO and/or pesticides.

    Perhaps, but I also think damaged intestines figure into it.

  37. Tim

    Thanks for posting this Tom. I must have been one of these people that emailed you with an article on the topic. You have well and truly answered that email.

    Thank you

    Thank you and the other readers for bringing it to my attention. I’d say easily half my posts these days are based in reader input and suggestions.

  38. Dana

    I have done the online survey bit to make a few extra bucks here and there or get free samples or whatever. And just answering a 20-question survey about my air freshener habits is enough to make me want to claw my eyes out. I cannot imagine answering one that asks me questions about my eating habits in that great of detail. And I would NEVER get the answers right.

    What really ticks me off about this sort of thing, this conducting an observational study and then pretending it’s taught us anything, is this sort of nonsense comes from the same people who don’t believe fat people when we tell them that we actually don’t eat a lot of food because, THEIR response, fat people are notorious for “underestimating” our food intake.

    Well then a bunch of old people are underestimating *their* food intake or otherwise getting it wrong. The Fatty Experts cannot have it both ways.

  39. Dana

    Also, Tim Ferriss says he recommends legumes on his 4HB diet because “most low-carbers” wind up fatigued because they’re not eating enough calories. I admit it’s easy to go too low on calories when you’re in ketosis and not hungry anyway, but he says it’s because they do things like eat a cup of broccoli instead of a cup of potatoes or whatever. And I’m like, “So… eat more fat?” but apparently that didn’t much enter into his calculations anywhere. Actually he’s kind of paranoid about all the evil toxins that are in animal fat. I don’t worry about it. I reason that if I get myself healthy so that my liver is working properly (assuming it’s not–I suspect perhaps mild fatty liver, but my enzymes were normal when I got tested last year), my liver can then do its job and the toxins won’t be a big deal. But if I don’t eat what I need to eat, no amount of avoiding toxins will help me.

    So… The good news is he makes it very clear early in the book that he could be totally wrong about everything he says and, in any case, he encourages his readers to do their own self-experimentation. We each have to find out what works for us individually–and as long as we’re getting our nutritional requirements met, there are so many variations our diets can take.

    (The problem with saying “no one diet works for everybody” is that without qualifications it leaves one open to claiming that nutritionally deficient diets can “work” for some people. Uh, no. Try again…)

    I’d say it’s more that some people can survive nutritionally deficient diets, but I agree with Ferriss that we each need to do some experimenting.

  40. Laurie

    The depths of my sadness at the misinformation and reporting of ‘it’s hopeless’ to think you could eat in such a way as to maybe prevent AD is illustrated by the contrast to Stephanie Seneff’s article in the EJIM


    Nutrition and Alzheimer’s disease: The detrimental role of a high carbohydrate diet

    European Journal of Internal Medicine:
    http://www.ejinme.com/article/S0953-6205%2811%2900004-5/abstract

    and the yahoo ‘blurb linking to May 9 ‘Archives of Neurology’

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/hsn/20110509/hl_hsn/littleevidencethatdietlifestylecutsalzheimersrisk

    diet doesn’t prevent AD. So very very sad. Nothing you can do. We need more research.

    I just read a different article which says only 10% of Alzheimer’s cases appear to be genetic. If that’s true, I’d say lifestyle has to account for a good chunk of that remaining 90%.

  41. Auntie M

    So they’re changing the Food Pyramid to a Food Plate. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/28/health/nutrition/28plate.html?_r=1&hp
    My favorite quote from the article:

    “Few nutritionists will mourn the passing of the pyramid, which, while instantly recognized by millions of American school kids, parents and consumers, was derided by nutritionists as too confusing and deeply flawed because it did not distinguish clearly between healthy foods like whole grains and fish and less healthy choices like white bread and bacon.”

    Yes, because fish and hearthealthywholegrains are equally “healthy”, and white bread and bacon are equally “unhealthy”. Which reminds me…I need to buy more delicious bacon. I’m going to buy you a desk pillow so you don’t give yourself a concussion.

    I should probably just buy a helmet — and then ask the commissioner of the Professional Blogging Association to outlaw head-to-desk contact on a defenseless receiver of bad science.

  42. Laurie

    Stephanie Seneff, lead author of the recent EJIM “Nutrition and Alzheimer’s disease: The detrimental role of a high carbohydrate diet ” is scheduled to be interviewed by Jimmy Moore’s podcast show on June 14.

    Excellent.

  43. Franklin Mason

    I had a thought. Studies such as these tend to produce those very effects which they purport to find. Here’s how. A study on the pernicious effects of red meat (or saturated fat, or cholesterol, etc.) come out and are trumpeted by the press. People read and believe them. Some follow the advice. Some ignore it. Those who ignore it tend to disregard all health advice. Thus those who ignore it tend to suffer from a greater variety of lifestyle diseases, and so observational studies will find a link between consumption of red meat and disease.

    These studies change behavior, and change it in a way that makes it more likely that the correlations they claim to exist will hold in the future. The “science” changes the reality; the reality (by a confusion of correlation and cause and effect) in turn in used to support the “science”.

    Exactly right. That’s a point I made in both speeches. Health-conscious people are more likely to avoid what they’re told is bad for them.

  44. Laurie

    The depths of my sadness at the misinformation and reporting of ‘it’s hopeless’ to think you could eat in such a way as to maybe prevent AD is illustrated by the contrast to Stephanie Seneff’s article in the EJIM


    Nutrition and Alzheimer’s disease: The detrimental role of a high carbohydrate diet

    European Journal of Internal Medicine:
    http://www.ejinme.com/article/S0953-6205%2811%2900004-5/abstract

    and the yahoo ‘blurb linking to May 9 ‘Archives of Neurology’

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/hsn/20110509/hl_hsn/littleevidencethatdietlifestylecutsalzheimersrisk

    diet doesn’t prevent AD. So very very sad. Nothing you can do. We need more research.

    I just read a different article which says only 10% of Alzheimer’s cases appear to be genetic. If that’s true, I’d say lifestyle has to account for a good chunk of that remaining 90%.

  45. Dan

    Would someone forward the Scientific Method to the people who did this study? I think they need to retake 6th grade Science Class.

    The scientific method is a way to ask and answer scientific questions by making observations and doing experiments.
    The steps of the scientific method are to:
    -Ask a Question
    -Do Background Research
    -Construct a Hypothesis
    -Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
    -Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
    -Communicate Your Results
    It is important for your experiment to be a fair test. A “fair test” occurs when you change only one factor (variable) and keep all other conditions the same.

    That’s the limitation of observational studies. The way they did this meta-analysis, they seem to have amplified the limitations.

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