Old Myths

When I was a youngster studying history in the 1950s I marveled at how ignorant people had been hundreds of years before.  For instance, the fear of hot air balloons incited riots and the destruction of the first prototypes.  The beliefs in witchery or sorcery incited mobs to convict and sentence men and women to be hanged or literally burned at the stake.  Doctors bled patients thinking that “germs” could be drained from the body – curing the illness.  (George Washington was bled in his final days.)  Revolutions were often followed by the killing off of the more productive/enterprising people in a nation.  In the 1930s and 1940s the German government promoted antisemitism and Jewish people were rounded up and put in concentration camps and systematically killed.

With just a little effort at historical recall I could write a book outlining thousands of events where mob action led normally sane people to complete insanity.

Back when I was a child I believed that since modern science was taught in our schools and such, the old fashioned examples of mass ignorance could never happen again.  Well, I was sadly mistaken.  People are just as gullible today it seems as they were in the worst of times of any bygone era.  The level of critical thinking exhibited by most folks today still seems almost nonexistent.  Sure, many people are highly sophisticated in particular fields.  But a one degree turn outside that field and their ability to think critically collapses.  I see this in the food business daily!  Yet food is something everyone is very familiar with.  Everyone eats food in some form or another more than once every day.  Yet they know less about it than virtually every other aspect of their lives.

Another New Myth?

The recent report about men being more at risk for prostate cancer by taking Omega-3 supplements is a prime example of absolute nonsense being readily accepted as a fact.  The “report” is being announced from upon high as authoritative gospel.  Even health oriented websites and publications are posting the message as if it is the truth.  The media (and this is not limited to the Huffington Post) has been running wild with it.  All major networks have covered the story without any caveats.  So it must be the absolute truth?

A Science-Based Rebuttal

The truth is -- the study is a farce.  It does not meet the peer-reviewed tests.  I asked Doug Bibus, a lead scientist in the field of fatty acid research for a brief response.  He sent me this quick abbreviated reply.

This is all a lot to do about nothing and sad that this publication got out there in this way.  A classic example of bad science making the press.  I think this statement by the authors really shows the true intent of their research: “There is really no evidence that taking dietary supplements is beneficial to health, and there is increasing evidence that taking high doses is harmful.”

We are talking about only a difference in blood levels of 0.02%.  Some bullet points we put out are below.

  • The authors are saying we will “die” from prostate cancer if our blood level of Omega-3s is 4.66% versus 4.48%.
  • They are basing their results on a 0.02% difference in Omega-3 levels.
  • Study reports a “significant” response with an insignificant difference.
  • If their findings are true, then prostate cancer should be rampant in just about any country with any seafood consumption.
  • They looked at blood from healthy and sick people.  Is it possible that sick people were taking fish oil supplements at a higher rate than the healthy individuals?
  • Plasma phospholipid fatty acids are not a good index of long term intake and are influenced dramatically by a single meal or even timing of a fish oil dose.
  • Harris just published a study on the weakness of plasma PL versus RBC.  It has also been shown that a single fish oil dose massively increases LC Omega-3s in about 4-12 hours that washes out around 48 hours.
  • The authors have not accounted for a major confounder - basal fish oil and fish consumption.
  • This study did an excellent job proving that sick people are eating slightly more Omega 3!
  • No documentation of fish oil or fish intake in the study group.  Sick people take Omega-3 at a higher rate than healthy folks!
  • The study was not designed to look at Omega-3s and confounded with selenium and vitamin E.
  • The people are already sick, how can this describe risk in an already afflicted population?
  • A recent meta-analysis of fish consumption and prostate cancer by Szymanski et al. (2010) reported a large reduction in late stage or fatal prostate cancer among cohort studies.

References1. Szymanski KM, Wheeler DC, Mucci LA. Fish consumption and prostate cancer risk: a review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;92(5):1223–1233.

For a more in-depth review of the report here is the response by the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3.  This is a proactive association of manufacturers, marketers, and supporters of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids, working to educate consumers and work with government groups, the healthcare community and the industry, while setting high ethical and quality standards for our business sector.  Yes, they have a dog in the hunt.  But they are presenting a response based on solid science, not puffery with an unannounced objective.

More Myths or Food for Thought?

While you are using your Critical Thinking skills to ponder this recent myth involving Omega-3 fatty acids, here's another brain teaser:  Are the more popular concerns voiced by Jeffery Smith and others about GMO plants valid?  Are the scientific and food industry communities using GMO to pull off another money making stunt at the expense of the ignorant consumer?  Or are the mob-action based myths condemning Monsanto and others in the field without scientific foundation?  How much do you know about the actual science of genetics and DNA?  Do you know even as much as one may find in a high school textbook?

You will find additional background in my Food Inc. movie review.