New Interview and More Sucky Science

1 11 2010

I’m back from a blogging hiatus that you probably didn’t know about because I never told anyone. Sorry! But what better time to return than on World Vegan Day?

First of all: I recently had the pleasure of doing an interview at “Let Them Eat Meat” about my experience with veganism, thoughts on its healthfulness, my overwhelming adoration for the American Dietetic Association, and—because I’m forever branded as That China Study Girl—some final thoughts on a certain book we all know and love.

In case you haven’t heard, Let Them Eat Meat is the brainchild of Rhys Southan, a non-disgruntled ex-vegan who applies his stellar writing skills to the subject of veganism. If you haven’t already stumbled across this site, please stumble there now—you’ll find some fantastic interviews with former (and current) vegans, discussions of related health and moral topics, and a critical look at the arguments for avoiding animal products—including a recent deconstruction of vegan ethical tenets. Even if you don’t have personal experience with an all-plant diet, you might find the material there fascinating from a psychological perspective. So go peruse.

In other news, it looks like bad science—or at least bad reporting—is still alive and well. Case in point:

Fellas: is saturated fat lowering your sperm count? If you believe the flurry of recent articles, it sure sounds like men who eat more saturated fat have fewer—and less virile—swimmers. A Harvard study presented at a reproductive conference last week spawned some gems like these:

High saturated fat intake ‘damages’ sperm

Diets High in Saturated Fats Can Lower Sperm Count, Researchers Say

Eating saturated fat can damage your sperm

Are the meat and dairy industries actually massive government-funded schemes for population control? Is humankind’s history of meat consumption the reason we’re verging on extinction?

Interestingly, when you actually read the articles above, you’ll see that saturated fat wasn’t the only type of fat the researchers linked with sperm problems. From here:

According to the study, an increased intake of saturated fats and monounsaturated fats—which are commonly found in meats, butter, and dairy products—may result in a lower sperm concentration.

(Isn’t it cute how they don’t list the common sources of monounsaturated fat? No one wants to diss olive oil. That’s what the Mediterraneans eat!)

And from here:

The researchers found that men with the highest intake of saturated fat had 41% fewer sperm than men who ate the lowest amount of saturated fat. And men with the highest intake of monounsaturated fat had 46% fewer sperm compared with men with the lowest intake of monounsaturated fat.

I’d give the ol’ “correlation isn’t causation” reminder, but in this case, it might not even be necessary. It looks like the figures cited are the unadjusted ones, because according to this Medscape article (which has more details about the study than the others):

The association between fat intake and semen quality parameters was made with linear regression while adjusting for total energy intake, age, abstinence time, body mass index, smoking status, and intakes of caffeine and alcohol. The results showed that saturated fatty acid levels in sperm were inversely related to sperm concentration (r = −0.53); however, saturated fat intake was unrelated to sperm levels.

D’oh.

So basically, men with higher levels of saturated fat in their sperm tended to have poorer semen quality—but actual dietary intake of saturated fat wasn’t implicated after adjusting for confounders. At least that’s what I’ve pieced together from the available articles, since a quest for the original study yielded nada. Regardless, this is a prime example of the media skewing headlines to fit conventional nutrition wisdom and assuming an association between variables proves cause-and-effect.

And in case anyone’s wondering what’s going on with “The China Study” Suckypedia Wikipedia article that’s now moderated by a vegan editor: Along with pruning out all mention of my critique, gone also are the criticisms from Science Based Medicine’s Dr. Harriet Hall (here and here) as well as the fabulous critiques from Chris Masterjohn (here and here). The only one still up is a brief mention of Loren Cordain. And in case that’s not enough, the “Criticism” section has now been changed to “Reception and criticism,” so half of it is dedicated to praise.

Go figure.

And at the risk of sounding like The Girl Who Cried Wheat Entry, the wheat entry really is coming next! I promise. In the meantime, here’s a new study that shows we have microorganisms in our mouth that can actually degrade gluten. Might this play a role in how folks at risk for celiac respond to wheat? Seems possible.

Lastly, I’d like to thank everyone who’s contributed to the (oft-informative) discussions unfurling on previous entries. I haven’t had time to jump in myself, but I’m grateful to all of you who’ve taken the time to share your thoughts here and engage in what has generally been civil discourse. You people are awesome.





Heart Disease and the China Study, Post #1.5

9 10 2010

First of all: I’ve got some bad news, folks.

I just learned from a highly reliable source that I am not a “private blogger,” but rather, “very likely a large scale underground defamation campaign against Dr.Campbell.” As a result, all mention of my critique—AKA the Minger Scam—has been yanked from Wikipedia’s “The China Study” page by a vegan editor there. The rationale is as follows:

Just tell me, which “private fun blogger” is able, aside of her alleged full time work and study of “English literature”, to write 36 pages of scientific responses to a professor?!! And again and again??? Either “she” is some sort of very mighty – and very mad and crazy and hate filled – genius, which in itself would be something extremely rare and highly unlikely (really, why would a pretty young girl have so much reason for such a giant ordeal, fight, all that massive work, all that hate???) … Or “she” is in reality another underground [campaign].

Whoops—my bad! I forgot females aren’t supposed to think or write stuff; we’re here to take Home Ec and vacuum in stilettos and learn how to become Good Wives:

On behalf of Minger Scam, Inc., I apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused. ;)

Now onto business.

I’ve got graphs, graphs, graphs galore, but they aren’t really relevant to the upcoming wheat post, so I’m plopping them here instead. In my first China Study critique, I looked at some mortality differences between the five counties that ate the most animal foods and the five counties that ate the least. Here, I’m doing something similar—except this time I’ll be comparing the counties with the super-highest and ultra-lowest heart disease rates and seeing what they do differently in terms of diet.

One of the incredible things about China is the vast difference in heart disease mortality between regions. One county, Fusui, has only 1.5 per 100,000 deaths attributable to heart disease—whereas another county, Dunhuang, has a whoppin’ 184. That’s even more than the US’s figure of 106.

In case graphs freak you out, here’s a summary of what’s below:

  • The healthy-hearted regions almost universally had higher intakes of animal fat, animal protein, dietary cholesterol, and saturated fat than the heart-disease-prone regions.
  • The healthier regions generally had lower intakes of fiber, light-colored vegetables, plant protein, vegetable oil, and—big surprise—wheat flour.
  • Consumption of green vegetables didn’t differ significantly between the high and low heart disease regions. Neither did smoking rates, total cholesterol, or non-HDL cholesterol, although HDL cholesterol looks slightly higher in the regions with excellent heart health.

Does this “prove” anything about diet and heart disease? Nope—there’s the curse of epidemiology again. But we can make the observation that some regions in China exhibited astonishingly low rates of heart disease while eating more animal foods than the Chinese average. And the county with the absolute lowest consumption of animal foods, Longxian, had the second highest rate of heart disease mortality out of all the counties studied. (For the record, I used the China Study II data for this, all of which is available online.) Read the rest of this entry »





Interview and Updates and I Promise Wheat is Next

29 09 2010

For anyone waiting for Wheat Post 2, sorry—this isn’t it. But it’s coming! Pinky swear!

News:

1. Killin’ la vida China Study. The fabulous Jimmy Moore recently invited me to be on The Livin’ La Vida Low Carb Show, which—if you’re not yet aware—is a podcast-goldmine not only for low carbers, but for anyone interested in health. You can listen to my interview with him here. Despite recording at 8 AM, it was a blast—thanks, Jimmy!

2. “The China Study” dies another death. Up until recently, my biggest beef with Campbell’s casein research was his attempt to extrapolate casein’s effects to all forms of animal protein, despite demonstrating that plant proteins can behave the same way. But now a bigger, stronger, beefier beef has hoofed its way into the picture. Sherlock Holmes Chris Masterjohn did some sleuthing and made some very interesting discoveries about what the casein research really showed. If you haven’t read this article yet, please do so. Now.

3. Campbell speaketh. If you’re going through Campbell withdrawal, fear not: He just published a new article over on The Huffington Post called “Low Fat Diets are Grossly Misrepresented.” You can probably guess what it’s about from the title.

I actually agree with one of the article’s implications, which is that not all “low fat” diets are actually low fat, especially in the case of clinical studies—kind of like we saw with that recent low-carb flapdoodle. A diet with 30% fat isn’t representative of Ornish any more than a diet with 30% carbohydrates is representative of Atkins, but the “low fat” label is often used by researchers to misleadingly describe a moderate fat intake.

Although my last blog post criticized the inaccurate titling of a not-very-low-carb study, the same could be said of many so-called low-fat studies. No matter what side of the diet fence you’re on, from a scientific standpoint, it’s important to be equally critical of all research and not automatically assume studies are well-designed just because their results sound good.

4. Ned Kock does heart disease. A couple weeks ago, Ned did some number-crunching on the China Study II data in relation to heart disease mortality, cholesterol, wheat, and rice. Check out his posts The China Study II: Cholesterol seems to protect against cardiovascular disease and The China Study II: Wheat flour, rice, and cardiovascular disease.

(Big apologies to those who left comments on the last briefly-existent post! I decided to delete some stuff I wrote about my “suspicious connection” to the Weston A. Price Foundation because it came off sounding snarkier than intended, but then I ended up trashing the whole thing so I could post this with a different URL.)

A more substantial wheat entry is comin’ up next.





Brand-Spankin’ New Study: Are Low-Carb Meat Eaters in Trouble?

8 09 2010

We interrupt your regularly scheduled wheat broadcast for an important announcement!

A few of you lovely readers emailed me today (thanks!) about the study Low-Carbohydrate Diets and All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality just published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. This paper compares mortality rates for folks eating a so-called “animal-based diet” versus a so-called “vegetable-based diet,” both of them so-called “low carbohydrate.” I finally got a chance to look at it, and indeed, a glance at the abstract looks a little spooky for any low-carb omnivores out there:

A low-carbohydrate diet based on animal sources was associated with higher all-cause mortality in both men and women, whereas a vegetable-based low-carbohydrate diet was associated with lower all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality rates.

Oh noes! This abstract sounds vaguely China-Study-esque, with the conclusion that plant-based diets are healthier than ones featuring more animal foods. Was this study really comparing hardcore meat eaters with plant noshers, like the abstract implies? Is animal protein poison after all? Is it time to ditch the steaks and bow down in phytoestrogenic reverence to the almighty tofu? Read the rest of this entry »





The China Study: Fact or Fallacy?

7 07 2010

Disclaimer: This blog post covers only a fraction of what’s wrong with “The China Study.” In the years since I wrote it, I’ve added a number of additional articles expanding on this critique and covering a great deal of new material. Please read my Forks Over Knives review for more information on what’s wrong with the conclusions drawn from Campbell’s casein/aflatoxin research, and if you’d rather look at peer-reviewed research than the words of some random internet blogger, see my collection of scientific papers based on the China Study data that contradict the claims in Campbell’s book. I’ve also responded to Campbell’s reply to my critique with a much longer, more formal analysis than the one on this page, which you can read here.

When I first started analyzing the original China Study data, I had no intention of writing up an actual critique of Campbell’s much-lauded book. I’m a data junkie. Numbers, along with strawberries and Audrey Hepburn films, make me a very happy girl. I mainly wanted to see for myself how closely Campbell’s claims aligned with the data he drew from—if only to satisfy my own curiosity.

But after spending a solid month and a half reading, graphing, sticky-noting, and passing out at 3 AM from studious exhaustion upon my copy of the raw China Study data, I’ve decided it’s time to voice all my criticisms. And there are many.

First, let me put out some fires before they have a chance to ignite:

  1. I don’t work for the meat or dairy industry. Nor do I have a fat-walleted roommate, best friend, parent, child, love interest, or highly prodigious cat who works for the meat or dairy industry who paid me off to debunk Campbell.
  2. Due to food sensitivities, I don’t consume dairy myself, nor do I have any personal reason to promote it as a health food.
  3. I was a vegetarian/vegan for over a decade and have nothing but respect for those who choose a plant-based diet, even though I am no longer vegan. My goal, with the “The China Study” analysis and elsewhere, is to figure out the truth about nutrition and health without the interference of biases and dogma. I have no agenda to promote.

As I mentioned, I’m airing my criticisms here; this won’t be a China Study love fest, or even a typical balanced review with pros and cons. Campbell actually raises a  number of points I wholeheartedly agree with—particularly in the “Why Haven’t You Heard This?” section of his book, where he exposes the reality behind Big Pharma and the science industry at large. I admire Campbell’s philosophy towards nutritional research and echo his sentiments about the dangers of scientific reductionism. However, the internet is already flooded with rave reviews of this book, and I’m not interested in adding redundant praise. My intent is to highlight the weaknesses of “The China Study” and the potential errors in Campbell’s interpretation of the original data.

(IMPORTANT NOTE: My response to Campbell’s reply, as well as to some common reader questions, can be found in the following post: My Response to Campbell. Please read this for clarification regarding univariate correlations and flaws in Campbell’s analytical methods.)

Read the rest of this entry »





Tuoli: China’s Mysterious Milk Drinkers

23 06 2010

Important disclaimer: In light of new information, this post needs to be taken with a really whoppin’ huge grain of salt. It turns out Tuoli was “feasting” on the day the survey crew came for China Study I, so they were likely eating more calories, more wheat, more dairy, and so forth than they typically do the rest of the year. We can’t be completely sure what their normal diet did look at the time, but the questionnaire data (which is supposedly more reliable than the diet survey data) still suggests they were eating a lot of animal products and very little in the way of fruits or vegetables.

At any rate, I recommend not quoting this post or citing it as “evidence” for anything simply because of the uncertainty surrounding the Tuoli data in the China Study. Please see the following posts for more information on the issue of Tuoli’s accuracy:

http://rawfoodsos.com/2010/08/03/the-china-study-a-formal-analysis-and-response/

http://rawfoodsos.com/2010/07/16/the-china-study-my-response-to-campbell/


 

As I mentioned in the previous post on dairy consumption and disease in China, there’s a fascinating little county by the name of “Tuoli” situated in northwest China—a place quite worthy of nutritional study, due to their unique diet.

They live here:

Which looks like this:

Where they eat a lot of this:

But not a lot of this:

The Tuoli diet is so abnormal for China, in fact, that T. Colin Campbell et al omitted this county from analysis in several China Study papers—such as “Vitamin A and cartenoid status in rural China,” published in the British Journal of Nutrition:

One county (Tuoli County in Xinjiang Autonomous Region), composed primarily of an ethnic minority population of herdspeople, had disproportionately high values for retinol, lipid and protein intake due to an exceptionally high intake of animal foods. This ‘outlier’ was not included in the analysis, to characterize more accurately the average intakes of the rural Chinese population and to avoid the undue influence of one data point on the results.

Given the prevailing beliefs about nutrition and health—such as saturated fat and cholesterol as a cause of heart disease, the necessity of fiber for colon health, the immunity-boosting properties of fruits and vegetables, and the dangers of a diet high in animal fat—it would seem the Tuoli should showcase the health woes that come from breaking every rule in the diet book.

But is that the case? Read the rest of this entry »





A Closer Look at the China Study: Dairy and Disease

20 06 2010

Mongolian yaks: A source of Chinese dairy.

I’ll admit it: Out of all the variables in the China Project, dairy is the one I’ve been most eager to analyze. Not because I’m a dairy lover myself (I haven’t touched it in years) or because I’m secretly a billionaire milk tycoon with my own thousand-acre Holstein farm (au contraire; I’m strangely phobic of cows). In his book, T. Colin Campbell makes such a compelling case about casein (a milk protein) as a cancer-promoting agent that I’m left wondering: Does the China Study data shows an equally convincing link between dairy and disease?

After all, the counties studied in the China Project weren’t eating the hormone-laden, antibiotic-stuffed, factory-farmed dairy we find in most stores. Their dairy was from pastured animals—typically sheep, goats, or yaks along with cattle—raised on natural diets in rural areas. As best I can deduce, milk products were neither pasteurized nor homogenized. This means that any connections we find between dairy and mortality variables are probably from dairy itself—not the nastiness that accompanies the dairy Westerners are more familiar with. This could be one of our best opportunities for studying dairy consumption in its raw, natural state. Yeehaw! Read the rest of this entry »








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