Interesting items from my inbox and elsewhere …
Everything causes cancer. Or prevents cancer.
But we already knew that, right? You can hardly open a newspaper without being told this-or-that is “linked” to a higher or lower rate of cancer. Some researchers with a sense of humor decided to randomly select ingredients from a cookbook and see how many of them have been associated with cancer in observational studies. Here are the opening paragraphs from the study:
Background: Nutritional epidemiology is a highly prolific field. Debates on associations of nutrients with disease risk are common in the literature and attract attention in public media.
Objective: We aimed to examine the conclusions, statistical significance, and reproducibility in the literature on associations between specific foods and cancer risk.
Design: We selected 50 common ingredients from random recipes in a cookbook. PubMed queries identified recent studies that evaluated the relation of each ingredient to cancer risk.
A “highly prolific field” … yeah, that’s one way to phrase it. Anyway, here’s what the researchers found:
At least one study was identified for 80% (n = 40) of the ingredients selected from random recipes that investigated the relation to cancer risk: veal, salt, pepper spice, flour, egg, bread, pork, butter, tomato, lemon, duck, onion, celery, carrot, parsley, mace, sherry, olive, mushroom, tripe, milk, cheese, coffee, bacon, sugar, lobster, potato, beef, lamb, mustard, nuts, wine, peas, corn, cinnamon, cayenne, orange, tea, rum, and raisin.
We found that 80% of ingredients from randomly selected recipes had been studied in relation to malignancy and the large majority of these studies were interpreted by their authors as offering evidence for increased or decreased risk of cancer.
So darned near everything causes or prevents cancer.
However, the vast majority of these claims were based on weak statistical evidence.
No kidding. But I’ll bet most of them also led to big headlines.
At least okra doesn’t give me the munchies.
This is an old CNN story, but only came to my attention recently when a reader warned me that Chareva’s okra might lead to a raid by cops.
The grower was alarmed when the police helicopter swooped low over his property.
Soon, Bartow County, Georgia, deputies — “strapped to the gills” and with a drug dog in tow — converged on his doorstep. They had the grower dead to rights.
Except the plant that the chopper cops had spotted from the air was … okra.
The helicopter was combing the area in search of cannabis plants when it came across the five-leaflet okra plant, the station reported. Marijuana plants can have anywhere between one and 13 leaflets per leaf, depending on maturity and health, but they generally have seven or nine.
“It did have quite a number of characteristics that were similar to a cannabis plant,” Georgia State Patrol Capt. Kermit Stokes told WSB.
If you haven’t already heard Kermit the Frog in your head, explaining how okra looks a lot like marijuana, something went very, very wrong in your childhood.
“Here I am, at home and retired and you know I do the right thing,” Perry told the station. “Then they come to my house strapped with weapons for no reason. It ain’t right.”
Upon realizing that it had dispatched officers to confiscate a popular gumbo ingredient, the Georgia State Patrol, which operates the task force, issued an apology, both to Perry and publicly.
I’ll bet Mr. Perry was so annoyed with the cops, he gave them each a bag of okra.
How nutritionists deal with contrary evidence.
Yet another study recently declared butter not guilty of the crimes it’s been accused of, as reported in HealthDay online:
Spread the news: Butter may not be the unhealthy food many Americans believe it to be, new research suggests.
“Overall, our results suggest that butter should neither be demonized nor considered ‘back’ as a route to good health,” study senior author Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Tufts University School of Nutrition Science and Policy in Boston, said in a university news release.
The new study was funded by the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Mozaffarian’s team reviewed data from nine studies that included more than 636,000 people living in 15 countries.
The findings showed that eating butter was only weakly associated with increased risk of premature death and not associated at all with heart disease. There was a slight association with protection against diabetes, the study found.
I’m sure those findings won’t surprise you. Unfortunately, this probably won’t surprise you either.
One nutritionist said her views on butter remain unchanged, however.
“Despite the findings of this study, I am not about to make a huge shift in the recommendations I make about consumption,” said Dana White. She is a dietitian and professor of sports medicine at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn.
“Butter remains a very high-calorie and high-fat food with little nutrient density to offer, and therefore still needs to be consumed in strict moderation,” White said.
In other words: I’ve been telling people to strictly limit their butter intake for years, and I’m going to keep on doing it, no matter what the evidence says.
Head. Bang. On. Desk.
The FDA plans to poops all over poop transplants.
If you’re a regular reader, you know I think our government’s regulations are often full of poop. So it seems rather appropriate that a branch of the government wants to regulate poop, as reported by BuzzFeed.
Gastroenterologist Colleen Kelly performed her first poop transplant eight years ago, on a young woman with a life-threatening gut infection who had run out of options. The bacterium Clostridium difficile had invaded the woman’s gut, bringing her constant diarrhea and pain, and antibiotics weren’t working.
Kelly’s patient persuaded her to try a fecal transplant, in which poop from a healthy person is put into a sick person’s colon in the hope of resetting the mix of microbes there. The patient’s boyfriend provided fresh stool, and Kelly introduced half a cup of it into her patient via a colonoscopy. To Kelly’s surprise, it worked — by the next day, the woman’s symptoms began to wane.
Kelly, an assistant professor of medicine at Brown University, has since performed some 300 fecal transplants for C. diff infections. These days, she usually buys healthy stool samples from OpenBiome, a nonprofit “stool bank” in Somerville, Massachusetts that launched in 2013. “It’s really unlike any therapy to date,” she told BuzzFeed News.
So this spring, when the FDA announced that it intended to tighten its rules on the procedure, known as fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT), making it harder for doctors to buy stool from banks, Kelly was among the commenters who wrote back, opposing the proposal.
It’s the typical pattern. People working in a profession find something that works. Businesses spring up to provide that something at a reasonable price. Then the feds, seeing something successful happening that they don’t control, step in to regulate.
“If the FDA makes it prohibitively difficult for clinicians to work with stool banks, I believe this will actually make the procedure less safe, and of course, less accessible,” wrote Sarah McGill, a gastroenterologist at the University of North Carolina Medical School who has performed about 30 fecal transplants on C. diff patients in the last two years.
Yes, of course that’s how it will play out. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said at least twice: most of the “protect the public” regulations that come along are backed by businesses who want to leverage the coercive power of government to stifle their competition. Public safety is merely the excuse. The BuzzFeed writer, unlike most media writers, actually understands that.
But one company, at least, welcomes more government regulation of stool. Rebiotix, a startup based in Minnesota that is developing an enema treatment of bacteria extracted from poop, told the FDA to shut down the stool banks and adopt the strictest regulation possible in dictating how samples are procured. The company contends that this is for the patients’ own good, as stool banks may not be fully screening their samples for diseases.
And now for the real reason …
Rebiotix is also worried about its bottom line. If the company’s poop-like drug for C. diff makes it through the rigorous clinical trial process before anybody else, it would win the rights to be an exclusive seller of the product for seven years, gaining a huge lead in a market expected to be worth $1.5 billion by 2024.
Anyone who tells you the FDA is imposing this limit on patient choice to protect the public is full of unregulated poop.