There\’s science and then there\’s health policy advice

For decades a reduction of the intake of saturated fat has been the cornerstone in dietary prevention of cardiovascular disease. The main argument for this advice is its alleged influence on blood cholesterol. However, several recent trials have found no such effect in spite of intakes up to five times higher than the recommended upper limit. Even if true, the effect on blood cholesterol is indirect evidence. The crucial question is if a high intake is harmful or if a reduction leads to health benefits. Almost all epidemiological and experimental studies are in conflict with this assumption; indeed several observations points to the opposite. There seems to be an urgent need for a revision of the present dietary guidelines. . . .

The idea that too much saturated fat in the diet is harmful to human health has no support from ecological, dynamic population or case–control studies of the association between dietary saturated fat, or tissue saturated fatty acids, and cardiovascular disease, nor from meta-analyses of randomised, controlled, unifactorial dietary trials. Even if the author of this review has studied the scientific literature on this issue meticulously for 18 years, supportive studies may have been overlooked. However, a scientific hypothesis must be in accord with all observations; a few supportive studies cannot outweigh more than hundreds of studies that have falsified the hypothesis.

9 thoughts on “There\’s science and then there\’s health policy advice”

  1. It’s really very simple. Scientists have to be held accountable for their papers and pronoucements. When they make a public pronouncement, they should post their due diligence at the same time, publically. Refusals to do so should be treated as reasons to deny them state funding of any kind. Repeated errors should be treated likewise. Problem solved!

  2. Thanks for your valuable insight Rupert!

    Scientists ARE held responsible for their papers – that’s the nature of the system. You put your results and your conclusions in the public domain and if you have got it wrong your peers will find you out – publicly.

  3. JSM, I rather thought that Climategate was about a series of scientists that refused to release their workings for independent review and conspired to keep them out of the hands of the Freedom of Information Act. I haven’t noticed these scientists having their UK government funding removed…..

    With so much research funding coming from the government, it’s essential that people not just note track records, but act on them as well

  4. Is ‘climate science’ a science? Certainly, it’s not a ‘hard’ science, like physics or chemistry. It’s more like the ‘soft’ social sciences. Yet in climate science there are no replicable experiments you can undertake, though there are some in the social sciences. So all climate scientists do is interpret accumulating historical data, and their interpretation will be theory-dependent (cf economics)…

  5. The chap who originated the whole Fats are Evil campaign was a Dr Ancel Keys. He lied. He plotted graphs to show a correlation between heart disease and the fat consumption of countries, and got the correlation he wanted simply by suppressing from the plot most of the countries for which he had data. He foreshadowed Climate Science, one might almost say. Once you get beyond those scientists who are, so to say, nature’s Presbyterians, what keeps the buggers honest is the threat that someone will repeat their experiments. If the discipline doesn’t do controlled experiments – e.g. epidemiology or climate science – and also gets command seized by zealots, grant-swingers and crooked businessmen- e.g. climate science or epidemiology – the threat vanishes.

  6. The entire obesity epidemic that has swept Western nations from the 1970s onwards is entirely down to the false premise that fats cause heart disease. The vast majority of people eat processed food, and the manufacturers, in order to make their [email protected] palatable used to add fat. Now, on orders from the govt and doctors, they reduce fat and add sugar instead, particularly high fructose corn syrup, which is metabolised in an entirely different way by the body.

    I have personal experience of this effect – I discovered a few years ago I could not eat fructose (one half of a sucrose molecule is fructose, the other half glucose) without giving myself terrible digestive problems. So I eliminated most sugars from my diet, and instead I eat red meat, cheese, butter, potatoes, vegetables. No fruit or sweet stuff. I immediately lost about a stone in weight, despite not being fat beforehand, and now stay the same weight, and eat as much as I like of the foods that are OK for me.

    I am convinced our bodies are not designed to metabolise the amount of sugars our diets contain. Our caveman ancestors would have eaten meat, berries, shoots, leaves. Large amounts of sugar in our diets is probably only a few decades old.

    A very interesting lecture on the dangers of sugar is here:

    Its long but worth it. My former GP (he’s retired now, and a family friend) watched it and changed his entire diet as a result.

  7. The really-good-for-you breakfast fruit juice is probably a major souce of sugar; so, I suppose, are those oh-so-healthy smoothies. I don’t think it wise to demonise sugar – but I do think it wise to note how much you consume lest, like poor Sobers, it turns out not to be good for you.

  8. Since a very major heart problem I have encountered many cardiologists. I am rather overweight (as Tim can confirm) and all the Drs assume I have my heart problem because of my weight. When they run their barrage of tests they are surprised and DISAPPOINTED that I don’t have coronary artery disease or high blood pressure.
    In A&E I was diagnosed and treated for a heart attack when I had not had one, based largely on their assumption that as a fat bloke, that must be what’s wrong with me.
    I actually had a cardiac arrest, which is an electrical problem caused either by a congenital defect or a virus.

  9. “meat, berries, shoots, leaves”

    My friend just eats roots and leaves and he is a pretty happy guy.

    “DISAPPOINTED that I don’t have coronary artery disease or high blood pressure.”

    Well it’s possible to be fit and fat. And conversely, when my grandmother left her concentration camp she was very slim but unlikely to qualify for the next Olympics.
    But you can’t escape the fact that the fat presents increased resistance to the work of the heart, and generally speaking, if people lose the extra kilos, the chance of developing cardiac failure or ischaemia is lessened. Cardiac arrests can be caused by congenital problems, viruses, coronary artery disease, electrolyte imbalances amongst other causes.

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