TCS Daily

Basics Instinct

By Jonathan Robison, PhD, MS - February 23, 2006 12:00 AM

Well, the latest research on the relation between nutrition and health has just been released and the fur is flying. Turns out the largest study ever done to assess the impact of a low fat diet on some of our major killer diseases has found that the diet has no effect -- no effect on heart disease, no effect on stroke, no effect on breast cancer and no effect on colon cancer.

These less than impressive findings come from the impressive sounding (and very expensive to the tune of about $415 million) Women's Health Initiative Randomized Controlled Dietary Modification Trial. They were published this month in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association. Nearly 50,000 nurses ages 50-79 were followed for more than eight years. Those assigned to a low-fat diet had the same disease rates as those who were not.

As is usually the case with such elaborate, expensive and emotionally charged findings, people on both sides of the issue responded immediately.

Dr. Jules Hirsch of Rockefeller University Hospital in New York City, exclaimed to The New York Times: "These studies are revolutionary. ...They should put a stop to this era of thinking that we have all the information we need to change the whole national diet and make everybody healthy." Towing the same line, Dr. Michael Thun of the American Cancer Society called it "the Rolls-Royce of studies" and told the Times it was likely to be the "final word."

Others took a very different view. One long time advocate of the benefits of low-fat eating, Dr. Dean Ornish of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, Calif., claimed the results were inconclusive because the women did not lower their fat intake enough, ate too few fruits and vegetables and were not followed for a long enough period of time. Another, Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health, told The Washington Post: "It would be a huge misinterpretation to believe that it doesn't matter what we eat to prevent heart disease and cancer." He went on to say that the evidence from this study was "quite strong" that "eating more fruits and vegetables as well as less saturated and trans fats cuts the risk of heart disease and cancer.

If the experts can't make up their minds about this research and the issues involved, it is quite likely that the general public won't know what to do with it either. This is especially true for a general public still reeling from the effects of the now receding low-carb mania of the last few years, which of course replaced the low-fat mania of the decade before.

However, it would be wrong to claim that this study constitutes a complete waste of $415 million hard-earned dollars. In fact there are a number of important lessons to be learned from this research.

No matter what health-related research claims, if there is any wiggle room at all (and there usually is quite a bit when dealing with human beings) scientists will put their spins and biases on it in an effort to support what they believe to be true. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it is something that people often forget in trying to decide what the findings really mean.

What's more, when it comes to the causes of complex, multifactoral diseases like all of those examined by this research, we know much less than we think we do about why certain people get them while others don't. While nutrition may play a role, it is only one of many, many potential contributing factors.

And when it comes specifically to the links between nutrition and disease, we know even less, again because of how complex the relationships are and how many different factors are involved. Add to this the tremendous variability in individual response to various dietary components and you have a level of complexity that is not described well using 30-second MTV-like sound bytes.

Critics' complaints that the diet group did not lower their fat content enough to make a real difference may or may not be true. Other researchers pointed out however, that, perhaps the lesson to be learned is that people are not willing to make more drastic changes. Interestingly some research suggests that going to the degree of very low fat diet that was prescribed might actually be helpful for only some people and actually harmful for others.

So, after all is said and done, whether you believe the results of this study or not, what are we left with in terms of recommendations for what to eat to support our health? Perhaps it might be good to acknowledge that, along with understanding the difficulty of trying to single out individual contributing factors to complex diseases, the study of nutrition as a major cause of, or protection from, disease is in its infancy. As with other types of human research, too often intuition and observation get substituted for good science with potentially hazardous consequences.

Over the years, nutrition recommendations in the United States have changed dramatically from a focus on the minimal nutrition required for good health to an ever more prescriptive focus on disease and obesity prevention. The problem is, of course, that the specific recommendations related to "healthy eating" have not been static, tending to change with the prevailing scientific and cultural winds. The result is a population that is anxious about food and confused about what they should and shouldn't be eating for their health.

With all the rapidly expanding research supporting the powerful impact that our emotions have on our health, existing in an ongoing state of apprehension and confusion over everything we eat is not likely to be health promoting. Perhaps a return to the basics is the answer. This would involve eating a wide variety of foods and paying more attention to our hunger and fullness and less attention (not to mention money) to others telling us what we should be eating. Over and above that it might also be helpful to heed the words of Dr. Robert Ornstein and Dr. David Sobel in their landmark book Healthy Pleasures when they say:

"The important point is that worrying too much about anything - be it calories, salt, cancer, or cholesterol - is bad for you, and that living optimistically, with pleasure, zest, and commitment, is good."


Basics Instinct
One of the worse thing in western thinking tradition is that this system depend too much on statistics.Without statstics they could not simpley think also they are really slave of statistics. Real fact is that every man is unque in his gene,in his bahavour, in his teste, his food hsbit,so with help of statistics we could not come any conclusion. We must change this nonsense system of statistics, and search some alternative system of study.Wholly depend on statistics we are making ourself fool and making public fool.First we must respect the unqueness of man, and study it him individually.Statistics may be useful in science but in human study it is very very harmful.

not surprising
My thinking all along is that the colestrol scare was a drug company scam, low fat was another diet fad and most of this nutrition stuff is hype. Yes, you need to eat a mix of things with more emphasis on grains and fruit and vegetables than on red meat. Fish is probably your best protein source and eggs aren't bad. Eating a pound of bacon for breakfast and a porterhouse steak for dinner every day isn't the best idea out there; neither is living at McDonalds.

No one thing is directly bad for you or good for you. Everything in moderation is the key to a healthy diet; always has been and always will be.

The best thing to maintain good health is vigerous exercise, this is especially important for people under 20 and over 40 in this day and age. Why those ages? By getting into the habit of daily elercise before you are "set in your ways" you are more likely to maintain it to some degree. By reminding yourself when life tries to get in the way and the the body starts complaining more, you will improve your health into old age. But remember, over-doing it here can have negative effects as well.

Want to live longer? Take an hour, forget what you think you have to do (stress is lifes worst enemy) and go for a brisk walk!

Correlation does NOT imply causation.
Statistics is a wonderful tool, when applied properly. However, in situations such as these, with many uncontrolled or unobserved variables, the existence of an apparent correlation between factor one and result a, does not imply factor one causes result a.

For example, I go out on my deck every morning, stamp my feet for 2 minutes and yell 'all elephants must leave the area'. Then I measure the number of elephants in the area and find the number to be zero.

So, one could say there is a correlation between my actions and the lack of elephants. Does that mean my foot stomping and yelling actions have caused the absence of elephants? Of course not.

There are other, unobserved and uncontrolled actions at work here, not the least of which is that I live in a Northern state.

Thus, I restate "Correlation does NOT imply causation".

statistically speaking, you are right
But in science it is important, especially in studying disease potential. This is a perfect example: the study is good and the findings are solid, but others skew the statistics to prove their personal point.

Eat a variety of things, don't get stuck on any one food or food group (keep candy, cakes, etc. to a minimum) and you will be fine.

Want to live longer? Enjoy yourself, rest properly and take a walk!

Agreed, and…
That knife cuts both ways. How do you see that as it relates to this article?

Eat lots of animal protein and fat, some fruits and long and healthy

Faddist mentality of western people,
Reading articals on different web, books,I came to conclusion that common people of western countries are behaving just like herd. If anybody declair this is scintifically proved , common people of west blindly believe that. you must understand that every man is unque in this world. his biological watch is unque, so no one can draw conculsion stastically on any subject, eat low collory diet or not that is not solution to health of man,all is depend on your watch of your body it suggest you which food is sutable for your body,Ihave seen lot of people smoking thirty cigaretes daily and stay healthly up to ninty years. so alway believe watch of your body. what your body donot like she react immigelatly

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