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    • A recent study has created controversy by finding that the health benefits of reducing meat consumption have been exaggerated.

      As this goes against conventional wisdom, it has been met with a great deal of criticism. From this article, it's hard to evaluate the argument--the study has been labeled fatally flawed, but the flaws are not specified. I have the impression that at least some of the critics are misinterpreting the authors' claim--they aren't saying that meat is good for health, only that the evidence that it is harmful is weak to non-existent. Of course, regardless of the health consequences, there are sound ethical and environmental reasons to avoid meat, which this study did not address.

      Can somebody remind me whether red wine is good for your heart or bad? πŸ˜‰

    • Only expensive red wine is good for you!

      Sounds like the argument over meat is suffering from a case of the "Brexits", where claims and counter-claims are bandied about without stopping to look at any facts - in case they do not support a given view. Truth is based on who shouted the loudest, and last.

      The Daily Mail, a UK newspaper, is often parodied for its tendency to run big articles telling readers that expert opinion is that "XYZ" is good for you, only to run a piece shortly after advising that different experts say "XYZ" will kill you.

      Still waiting for that Woody Allen scene from "Sleeper", where chocolate brownies are declared a health food, to become reality.

    • Richard, I have written here before about my belief that the news media no longer presents news information/ facts, but stories designed to create a strong emotional effect on the viewers - whether and positive or negative emotion really doesn't matter, they both engage the viewer more strongly.

      I found it interesting that they tended to group red meat, and processed meat together healthwise - yet the sodium nitrate used in bacon and sausage is well recognized and regulated by the FDA and not present in "red meat"

      Here is a brief article about preserving fish with various agent, including a paragraph about sodium nitrate, which was used to help prevent bacterial growth, but can/may contribute to the formation of carcinogenic nitrosoamines. It is worth remembering, sodium nitrate also helps prevent the growth of botulism organisms...

    • There are a few topics where I follow the actual science papers very closely, and this is one. Here's the thing: there are nutrition scientists who conduct surveys with thousands of people, there are statisticians who caution what you can conclude from those studies, and there are doctor/scientist combos who work in prevention clinics.

      In this case, it's a group of statisticians who fairly legitimately point to the limitations from survey studies. To be really precise, this is exactly what they concluded:

      low-certainty evidence was found that a reduction in processed meat intake of 3 servings per week is associated with a very small decrease in risk for all-cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality, stroke, MI, and type 2 diabetes

      That could be true. If the average survey respondent is eating meat 2-3 times daily and they cut out three servings a week, can it really make a diff? What food replaces that meat? A white bagel with cream cheese? That could make it worse.

      Statisticians and the public look for very big numbers in those surveys, but ironically the data quality goes down as the survey size goes up because less supervision per participant. Participants don't remember what they ate and how much β€” and they actually want to forget the extra indulgences.

      Data from prevention centers is dramatically different. The Cleveland Clinic published the results of 200 heart patients who sought dietary changes under close supervision over surgery. They were all high-risk patients with a history of heart disease. They had to eliminate all animal foods and refined foods like donuts. In 10 years of close monitoring after adopting the program, one of the 200 had a minor stroke, the other 199 showed no signs of heart disease.

      There was a massive study in the 70s conducted by Oxford, Cornell and The Chinese Ministry of Health in China, that wasn't survey-based but did produce huge numbers of participants. They took stool, urine and blood samples, measured weights, assayed their food, inspected the garbage and pantries, and published the results. The data was open sourced and was pored over for years by statisticians. It wasn't confounded by people moving and changing diets, or by much variation in genetics.

      It showed absolutely positively and dramatically that people who lived in warm inland areas and subsisted predominantly on rice, veggies, fruit, tubers and legumes had far lower cancer rates than people who lived in the cold north and lived off cattle, or people near rivers and oceans who ate a lot of fish.

      That was The China Study. Sir Richard Peto of Oxford became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1989 and was knighted in 1999, in part for his role as coauthor of the study. There has never been a study like that since.

    • Thanks for the insights, @Chris . I confess that this is not something I have thought much about before, but now I am starting to realize how difficult it is to do rigorous research in this area. One needs to examine the claims carefully, especially with an eye towards what is not being said. Given the challenges, it is not surprising that we get conflicting advice and frequent reversals of consensus opinion.

    • I got obsessed by the claim of a prominent cardiologist that heart disease is just a simple food-borne illness. I thought what? C'mon, how do prominent, educated professionals make such exaggerated claims? The same claim was being made about type II diabetes, that it's completely curable in 30 days through diet alone. Oh shut up.

      It seemed that the nation's two leading health problems couldn't be that simple, and if they were, everyone would know. That was 20 years ago. All these years of obsessively following this issue and having friends & family as doctors & researchers, I've finally come to grips with the few big factors that got us here, such as marketing being more influential than science.

      I couldn't help think of the tragic irony of Bernie Sanders having to cancel his campaign events due to needing stents in his arteries. This is an educated man whose platform is largely built around health care. He had the example of Bill Clinton, who once had heart disease and got a quadruple bypass, only to have his heart disease return as it almost always does. Clinton then called the head of Cleveland Clinic's cardiac prevention center and became a new man without further surgery and has lived a heart disease-free life over the last many years β€” active, vigorous, at a healthy weight.

      The Cleveland Clinic doc who solved Bill Clinton's heart disease is this guy:

    • Last night NPR's Forum had an hour episode on this study. One guest is a Stanford professor who is a leading contributor to the American Heart Association's guidelines, and another is a cardiologist at Stanford.

      The Stanford cardiologist's perspective is her patients are composed of high risk individuals β€” they've had strokes, heart attacks, stents, and bypass operations, they have high cholesterol, etc. She said it's very uncommon for them to want a dietary solution. They became the way they are mostly via what they eat. Her treatments are almost always drugs and surgery.

      She does feel obligated to tell them, though, that a whole food, plant-based diet is the most effective treatment, but her patients say they don't think they can do it.

      The research professor said it's true, we don't have the double blind control group tests that drug trials have for who gets a heart attack, but we do have rigorous research into what controls the risk factors like cholesterol levels. That research shows definitively that risk factors go up as meat consumption goes up.