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October 2005 after the first frost and summer grasses had turned brown.  The growth of winter grasses was delayed by the drought.

Counteracting Health Misinformation

Column #199

Every person is an individual with a different background of life experiences. Even twins, from their individual perspectives, do not have identical experiences from the first moments of life. By the time they start school their lizard brains are well conditioned. In grade school they gain additional experiences and they continue throughout life. I wrote about this in “Stories and Your Reptilian Brain.” There I explained how our lizard minds can be exploited by politicians, marketers, and others to influence our decisions. Yes, that has something to do with inciting mob rule.

How everyone views medical journals also differs. Just like viewing a painting, ask five people and they report seeing something differently. Ten witnesses of an accident can swear they saw the whole event, but each one of their stories may differ. The same thing happens, but worse, when laymen read nutritional scientific literature. All too often at best they only skim the small print to find solace in statements they prefer.

Worst of all for confounding individual realities are today’s Internet stories which, when proven exciting, are often parroted by the media because doing so draws more followers. All that attention tends to validate the stories no matter their credibility. Dr. Brittany Seymour, an assistant professor of oral health policy and epidemiology at Harvard University, says that when faced with information overload “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

So herein lies the problem. Objective facts are less influential!

In school, my physics classes always fascinated me. Questions were asked and right there in the classroom experiments were conducted that proved which answer was correct. I’ll never forget watching steel burn! Then there were experiments with gravity, light waves and sound waves, and action-reaction just to name a few.

Chemistry was a challenge for me. But in the lab I could actually see that when certain chemicals were mixed together events happened in a predictable path. New compounds could be created out of elements that in no way resembled each other or their combination. Also, compounds could be treated in such a way that various elements could be precipitated out and measured. The measurements would match the atomic chemical formulas such as H2O.

Later in life I worked with geologists in the metal mining industry. They routinely sent rock samples to labs for analysis. Even 45 years ago they would expect nothing less than measurements in parts per million. By the 1980s labs could measure in parts per billion! How small is that? Measured in time, one second is less than one part per million in 11 days. One part per billion is one second in 31.7 years.

Today, measuring a part per trillion is no big deal. So anytime anyone wants to raise the alarm they roll out measurements in parts per billion or trillion and imply those “measurable” levels must be overdoses that will kill. So, “buy my ‘pure’ stuff instead” they say.

Because I’ve been “into” physics, chemistry, biology, and statistics and early on learned how to critically evaluate “studies,” I was able to apply my past experiences when reading nutritional literature. I still have to look up many technical terms when reading nutritional literature because they certainly aren’t in my daily vocabulary. But I understand methods, chemistry, and calculations in reports and my diverse background helps me understand more than the average person. And when I have questions that go beyond the reports, I like to seek out professionals in the field and hear their unvarnished opinions first hand.

Few consumers and even medical professionals go to as much trouble as I do to find out where the truth lies in the health food game. It takes time because one must study. In many cases it’s emotionally disturbing or boring. That’s why “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” But in a vast majority of cases only a collection of professional journals can adequately present the whole truth as it’s currently known.

Today there remain many popular opinions that are inadequately supported by science. Shockingly, very recent independent peer-reviewed studies do not support the pubic’s concern for RoundUp®. They indicate the general public should have no concerns and even agricultural users have little to worry about. Obviously a jury of peers isn’t like a peer-reviewed study.

The surge of interest in artificial meats made from vegetables is now a stock market phenomena with Beyond Meat’s recent IPO. The belief is that artificial meat is more nutritious and more environmentally friendly than the real thing. Yet peer-reviewed reports on grass-fed meats blows both of those assumptions away. Farming vegetables, most fruit, and grain involves many large inputs and considerably more environmental disruption than livestock grazing on grasslands with natural rainfall. As a food, grass-fed meats are one of nature’s most nutritionally complete foods. Only grazing animals replicate what has been going on for the past 400+ million years–not farming. Animals and green leaves are Earth’s original sustainable food sources.

Today we can analyze the chemistry of foods way beyond the capability of 70 years ago. Far more is known about body functions. We now understand more about essential nutrients such as Omega-6 and Omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs). Food chemistry has revealed that many modern stand-alone food choices cannot fulfill the nutrient needs of man and his pets. These needs are best fulfilled by complete foods that are low glycemic, nutrient dense and diverse, with equally balanced EFAs. Yet, all individual food selections have at least one aspect that can be advertised as good for you–even sugar (in various forms), alcohol, and the list is endless. Primarily that’s because traces of this or that can be found in food and, if the traces are good nutrients, the food is promoted. Eat this food for that benefit. You see promotions like that all the time.

In the past three decades science has challenged many old established theories that had become dogma. As a result everyone today seems to agree that hydrogenated oils and processed flour are not healthy. Now we are learning that we need not fear animal fats! Cholesterol levels are not markers for heart attacks. Eating saturated fat does not clog arteries. In fact, eating fat does not necessarily make you fat. It’s mostly sugars and carbohydrates that make people obese.

A big knowledge jump occurred with the discovery that imbalances in the EFAs are associated with many chronic diseases which are body failings. The American diet is loaded with Omega-6 EFAs and deficient in Omega-3 EFAs. And even though people take Omega-3 supplements, they have no idea their goal is to balance their EFAs equally, not just take some Omega-3. They do not understand that lowering the EFA ratio usually requires a reduction in Omega-6 consumption and a higher consumption of foods with very low EFA ratios.

There are many modern fallacies still being promoted as gospel. Unfortunately, instead of embracing clarifying peer-reviewed nutritional science many health-conscious people get quite agitated when told facts differ from their beliefs. Some people even become quite belligerent. Much of their reaction is due to their past life experiences, fears, and possibly their addictions.

Because so few people are science oriented there will always be more than one opinion. And often strong emotions are involved. Consequently, most of the science-oriented people who know basic truths have to go about their business discretely and remain relatively silent. Why counteract health misinformation when it stirs up a hornet’s nest and puts oneself in the path of outraged backlashes? It’s always so much easier to go along with the crowd.

Unfortunately that leaves the door wide open for the less scrupulous in our health food game and the beat goes on. This conundrum reminds me of the book “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” by Charles Mackay.

. . . another long story.

To your health.

Ted Slanker

Ted Slanker has been reporting on the fundamentals of nutritional research in publications, television and radio appearances, and at conferences since 1999. He condenses complex studies into the basics required for health and well-being. His eBook, The Real Diet of Man, is available online.

Don’t miss these links for additional reading:

Abstract: Counteracting Health Misinformation, A Role for Medical Journals?

Viral Misinformation Threatens Public Health by Lauren Vogel

The 10 greatest physics experiments? by Chris Woodford

Burning Steel Wool from The Wonder of Science

Identifying Action and Reaction Force Pairs from The Physics Classroom

Measuring in Infinitesimal Scale by Michael Specterthe – Washington Post November 23, 1989

Does The Herbicide RoundUp® Cause Cancer? By Steven Salzberg a healthcare contributor to Forbes Magazine

Scientific Law from Wikipedia

Plant-Based Proteins by Ted Slanker

Just the Facts EBN EBM by Ted Slanker

Stories and Your Reptilian Brain by Ted Slanker

Food Analysis: EFA, Protein to Fat, Net Carbs, Sugar, and Nutrient Load by Ted Slanker

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay from Wikipedia