North of 50 - One (Not So) Good Study Deserves Another

By Colin Campbell

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The upside of having to wait in supermarket line-ups is that it provides an opportunity to chuckle over the headlines in the tabloids. Aside from the usual made up stuff about celebrities: CHER TO ENTER NUNNERY. CAMILLA WALKS OUT ON CHARLES AFTER HE ORDERS BURQUA FOR BIRTHDAY, there’s the odd, typically very odd, headline on health issues: WOMAN LIVES TO 150 ON LIQUORICE ALLSORT DIET. CARROT CONSUMPTION LINKED TO EYE DISEASE.

While it’s fun to spoof the pulp press, and we’ve learned not to expect anything close to accuracy from them, we should expect greater veracity from the medical/scientific communities when it comes to health and nutrition-related announcements, in particular. Too often, it seems, this is not the case.

So much that has been touted as being beneficial or harmful in one study is in turn “proven” inaccurate in a follow–up study. Take, for example, Vitamin C and Echinacea, which have recently been discredited as panaceas for everything from carbuncles to claustrophobia. The former certainly didn’t prevent me from sniffling throughout last winter, but then maybe you aren’t supposed to inhale it. That being said, I have heard of a lady who swears that her cat, Bonkers, has been cured of stalking sparrows, and has instead taken up macramé as a result of ingesting a teaspoon of Echinacea daily with his salmon pâté.

When the early studies appeared linking fat-consumption to high cholesterol and artery disease, I paid close attention, since I have been blessed with legs that look like all of the tributaries of the Nile have been stenciled upon them.

Now, after years of bashing bacon, banishing brie, and excising eggs, I’m being advised not to be so angina anal. Some of these earlier studies, it has been suggested, may not have been as thorough as they should have been. It has been pointed out that some of the population samples were too small, and also that what was seen in mice might not necessarily translate into humans who love their grandkids and the Knowledge Network.

Similar revisions of late have disputed, reversed, or re-reversed findings about coffee and red wine consumption. I would love to have been present in the lab when the rats downed their daily dose of Chateau Neuf de Plonk. I doubt the tests would have proven anything, other than a correlation between grapes and dancing. All I know for certain about coffee drinking is that it encourages some people to be social, and others to hide behind newspapers.

So, why all of these contradictory findings? The respected *Journal of the American Medical Association* blames researchers with close ties to drug companies as the principal source of misinformation, stating that “published studies are sometimes misleading and frequently fail to mention weaknesses.” The AMA also cites instances where authors censor critical comments from co-authors in a rush to publish.

No surprise there. I’ve long suspected that many researchers on company payrolls have big mortgages and heavy expenses for yacht paint and white mouse feed, so it behooves them to heed whereof their bread is margarined. As for censoring data, I’d be inclined to do the same if the cute little mice to whom I fed great dollops of nutritional supplements ended up looking like Mick Jagger.

As a result of all of this rushing to publish, next time I read of some study or other trumpeting the benefits of snake oil in the treatment of insomnia, or claiming that consumption of kale contributes to memory loss, I will be sure to treat it with a large dose of scepticism washed down with a glass of red wine. The healthy kind, of course.




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