Show Me The Science!

I've been caught out a few times of late talking about the things I've learned about nutrition & health, and the current research I'm engaging with, and then being left without a place to point my audience toward. I tell them about my blog, but it takes a lot of digging to find the posts where I've discussed the then-latest findings.

So, in the vein of my Recipe Index, I want to build a collection of links to online resources here to help readers & stumblers find the information that has had a role in the development of my ideas about nutrition, as well as general lifestyle.

This will be a work in progress for a while, since I don't have heaps of free time to go gather all my info again. So the more collaborative this can be, the better!

Here goes!

Saturated Fat, Cholesterol, LDL & Coronary Heart Disease

Here is the article that brought the established ideas about obesity and the dangers of fat intake to their knees - Gary Taubes' What If It's All Been A Big Fat Lie?

From the Washington Post:

"In 2002, science journalist Gary Taubes published an article entitled "What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie?" He argued that reputable scientists were coming around to the idea, advanced by diet gurus like Dr. Robert Atkins, that carbohydrates, not fat, are the ultimate dietary villain. If so, he wrote, "the ongoing epidemic of obesity in America and elsewhere is not, as we are constantly told, due simply to a collective lack of will power and a failure to exercise. Rather it occurred . . . because the public health authorities told us unwittingly, but with the best of intentions, to eat precisely those foods that would make us fat, and we did." "

Taubes has gone on to lecture around the US (if not the world just yet), especially after publishing his paradigm-challenging masterpiece, Good Calories, Bad Calories. It's a mighty tome of scientific analysis and criticism, exploring obesity research and the bias behind scientific process and publication. Taubes ultimately explores what he believes to be the driving force behind fat accumulation - chronically raised insulin levels, which leads to Metabolic Syndrome, obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease. This book certainly reinforced my decision to support my longevity and health by keeping a tight rein on my blood glucose, and therefore insulin levels.

Tom Naughton's enjoyable and information flick, Fat Head, covers this area and many more aspects of health in a humourous fashion, peppered with simple animations to clarify the take-home points, whilst using the opinions and findings of experts to support his claims. Here's a clip detailing the outrageous behaviour of Ancel Keys & the bizarre reaction the health community had to the problems that stemmed from the introduction of 'foods' such as vegetable oils:

An article posted on THINCS way back in 2002 is absolutely one of my favourite resources on the Internet when it comes to using science to totally dismantle the bogus Conventional Wisdom of cholesterol/LDL/saturated fat/CHD and everything that's claimed to link them. The article, Why The Cholesterol - Heart Disease Theory Is Wrong, involves thorough scientific discussion, buoyed by the author's frustration by the inexplicable arguments perpetuated by the medical community to this day. Everyone needs to read this article. The author, Malcolm Kendrick, MD, has written many more intriguing and insightful articles in the past decade - check the THINCS website for a substantial list.

"In Framingham, Massachusetts, the more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower people's serum cholesterol...we found that the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories weighed the least and were the most physically active." Dr William Castelli 1992 (Director of the Framingham study)
- cited in the Kendrick article above.

The word is getting out - this article may not be available online forever, at least not at this location, but for now The Boston Globe discusses the no-longer-avoidable truth about the importance and innocence of saturated fats in its article, Why Does Saturated Fat Cause? Arguments (published Feb 24th, 2010). For posterity, here's some juice from the opening of the article:

For the past 40 years, well-meaning specialists have told Americans that eating saturated fat is bad for heart health. It now appears that conventional wisdom is on shaky ground. Last month’s American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a landmark study from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute that has turned current fat recommendations upside down. The verdict from the study is that “there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk for heart disease.’’ Equally important, we are learning that restricting fat intake is not without serious health consequences, such as escalating rates of obesity and diabetes. The report evaluates dietary data from a total of 347,747 subjects from eight countries in 21 studies, over 25 years.


Dr. Ronald Krauss, the study’s principal investigator and director of atherosclerosis research at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, says, “It’s time to turn the page on how we perceive saturated fats in relation to risk for heart disease. It’s the wrong message that saturated fats are artery-clogging or evil.’’ Krauss says any dietary recommendations to further reduce saturated fat would be of no benefit. Americans, he says, shouldn’t be avoiding all forms of saturated fats and it’s erroneous to focus on saturated fat out of context from the whole diet.


In addition, high rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, especially in children, are one of the United States’ biggest public health concerns, an epidemic that happens to parallel decades of public health messages warning Americans that eating saturated fat is bad. As a result, many consumers instead eat commercially made low-fat confections that are full of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. Eating too many of these calories can result in abnormal levels of blood sugar and triglycerides. These are well-established risk factors for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. The question now is whether those efforts to lower dietary fat have caused a whole new set of chronic disease problems.

The wonderfully funny Tom Naughton has been exploring this information in his own unique way of late, and brings more research to the fore to make his points in his recent posts, LDL Nonsense Is Taxing My Sanity & The American Heart Association: Do These People Read Their Own Data?

And another step up the accessibility & colour ladder is Richard Nikoley's series of blog posts on Saturated Fat & Coronary Heart Disease.

Josh Yelon has analysed a range of studies concerning heart health experienced though low-carb dieting - Effectiveness of Low-Carb Diet On The Heart & Arteries. Look to his comments for a basic break-down of each studies' findings.

Low-Carb Diets & Diabetes

First and foremost, anyone with diabetes needs to start engaging with the works of Dr. Richard K. Bernstein. Now.

Kurt G. Harris, MD, offers a thorough explanation of the two types of diabetes, and how Type 1 MAY and Type 2 CAN be cured by sticking to the Paleo diet. Diagnosing either type in their early stages seems to be the point of importance if you want a chance at a cure.

As heart-warming as it is to know that more any more diabetics are ignoring the average doctor's advice (given that most GPs blindly follow the terrible advice of the ADA), it's still upsetting that for most diabetics, they have no option but to religiously follow the 'take more of the poison that's killing you' instruction until the day they die, full of bolus holes.

Thankfully, the online community is pushing the real information out there, through sites like Blood Sugar 101. And the Internet is rife with personal stories reinforcing how easy it is to treat/manage diabetes without medical interference. Sure, some Type 1's will need help through medical means. But not everyone. However, no one is helped by the ADA except the junk food companies.

Why does the ADA suck? Ask Richard Nikoley. As Mark Sisson says, The Best Way To Get Diabetes: Follow The Diabetes Dietary Guidelines.

The Endocrine System: Metabolic Function & Hormonal Balance

(another amazing image by Bryan Christie)

There are three agreed-upon ways to lose weight: lower caloric intake, or burn more calories through exercise, or raise your metabolism. Leaving the specific food aside for the moment, lowering calories can have deleterious metabolic effects. As Ancel Key's Starvation Study showed, the subjects of his study intuitively consumed extreme amounts of food post-starvation in order to restore basal metabolism back to pre-starvation levels, and were left with increased amounts of body fat as a result. (The study itself is a hefty piece of work - the best summary I have found thus far is the metabolically-biased write-up by Matt Stone of 180 Degree Health. It may miss some details, I'm not sure, but metabolism is examined closely.) This is the body's natural reflex when finally allowed to consume as much food as desired. There's a reason why the term 'yo-yo dieting' is common parlance. Observational studies have also noted an association between exercise and lack of weight loss, possibly due to the hunger triggered by cardio exercise, and the psychology of work/reward. Time magazine ran an article by John Cloud that explored this issues in an interesting and highly controversial manner.

Matt Stone has recently presented the argument that our surprise that low-calorie diets can still result in fat gain is backward - that it may well be because of low-calorie dieting that we are getting fatter. His focus is metabolism, and in the face of growing obesity trends, it certainly seems logical.

Some of his other ideas, expressed most concisely in a guest post on Tom Naughton's Fat Head blog, are less logical: he argues that following a low-carb diet for a significant period of time will necessarily result in impaired (lowered) metabolic functioning. Kurt Harris, MD neatly tears this apart on PaNu. Melissa McEwan from Hunt.Gather.Love suggests that those low-carb dieters who do develop metabolic problems end up that way due to lack of consumption of marine life (i.e. a lack of iodine).

Iodine is crucial regarding thyroid function, and the observation that 'healthy eaters' who shun iodised salt are ending up deficient and developing the-now-almost-unheard-of goiters! Personally, the basic tests I had prior to being diagnosed with PCO (as opposed to PCOS) showed that it was unlikely that I had any thyroid function issues (although those tests aren't always accurate since they don't necessarily test for free T3). Just in case, I am taking a potassium plus iodine supplement, mostly for the potassium, to see whether it impacts on my well-being. If you do have a low body temperature or other metabolic issues, it's a good idea to be tested for hypothyroidism. Dian Hseih from NoodleFood has written a great article linking to more information regarding thyroid function, body temperature gauging, and hypothyroidism.

So instead of following the old chestnut of 'eat less, move more', which has been thoroughly disproved by decades of us following the guidelines and yet getting fatter and sicker, we need to attend to specific food choices, as well as maintaining our metabolism to operate at optimal levels. For me, my system runs best on fatty meats. For others, unrefined starches may be their metabolic cure.

Danny Roddy, of The Carnivore Health Weblog, hammers the last nails in the coffin of low-carb-causes-metabolic-damage with his excellent article, The Carnivorous Diet & Your Thyroid - which covers much more than just the carnivore's lifestyle. His conclusion:

You cannot correct one gland without having a profound effect on another. This is why I believe that nutrition is the best medicine. Optimizing EVERY system in the body is the only way to get everything back on track. Simply treating low thyroid with medication is silly when we can clearly see that the origin can be multifaceted; rooted in stress, allergies, or even environmental pollution.

If you come away with two things from this post let them be that grains are shit and avoid stress whenever possible. A carnivorous diet poses no threat to anyone's thyroid. In fact if you are hypothyroid it's likely that you already eat too many carbohydrates, seeming that most cases are autoimmune or stress related in origin. Carbohydrate consumption in the form of easily digestible sugars and gluten containing grains have a negative impact on the thyroid and adrenal glands. My recommendation would be to minimize or eliminate them completely.

If you suffer from hypothyroidism or an otherwise slow metabolism (perhaps thanks to low-calorie eating), you might like to try what I do to boost my metabolism - eat coconut oil.

Josh Yelon has analysed a range of studies concerning metabolic rate change experienced though low-carb dieting - Effectiveness of Low-Carb Diet On Metabolic Rate. Look to his comments for a basic break-down of each studies' findings.

Traditional Diets & Modern Counterparts

Many advocates of paleo/primal-esque diets begin with the tenuous facts they can find regarding what paleolithic man ate, and build their nutrition choices around that. Loren Cordain of The Paleo Diet would be the most recognised of this group - his motto is essentially, "If it wasn't available, it's BAD."

Kurt Harris, MD, takes a different starting-point for his PaNu principles - he looks at the current science regarding what has been shown to be harmful, acknowledges that this includes most but not necessarily all Neolithic agents, and encourages the individual to work through a 12 step elimination process to find their ideal formula for health.

Mark Sisson's Primal Blueprint takes a similarly science-based approach, although he weaves the addictive Grok narrative into his dietary and lifestyle advice to (albeit artificially) contextualise his ideas. Whilst I don't romanticise my health choices, consideration of evolution certainly encourages one to take a more logical and scientific stance when approaching health and well-being information. MArk's work started my transition from low-carbing to going fully Primal (slash Paleo when I cut out dairy), and I can't thank him enough for his efforts and support over this past year. I look forward to watching him go on to take over the health & fitness industry!

The Weston A. Price Foundation is a pioneering group that is spreading the message of the importance of reverting to the 'old art' of preparing and consuming nourishing traditional foods, based on the wide variety of traditional diets explored by Price many decades ago (note: these people were nto eating pre-Neolithic diets, so the fact that they were indeed healthier than the average SAD consumer does not mean these diets were/are optimal). The certainly have good advice, but show signs of capitalist bias at times, promote dairy consumption heavily, and emphasise the supposed goodness of consuming grains once they have been sprouted and treated as they are by traditional communities. Many health experts question this method - should we be consuming poison that has been made less poisonous, or should we just eliminate it altogether? Kurt Harris, MD, answers the very question in response to a commenter's defense of a very questionable article. The last lines of his post are particularly powerful and significant.

Why You Shouldn't Eat Sugar & Grain

Sugar & grains today are most commonly found in their refined form, and health experts have known for a long time that the consumption of refined carbohydrate causes blood glucose spikes which require the production of insulin so that they can be brought back down to safe (non-toxic) levels. Insulin shunts the excess blood glucose into the muscle and fat cells, where it is stored for later use. On a suitable diet (i.e. one that does not involve excessive caloric surpluses), the insulin in the bloodstream dissipates once the job is done, and the energy is released from the fat cells back into the blood for use. However, there is a growing incidence of insulin resistance nowadays, which means that insulin is over-produced in response to blood glucose spikes, and takes much longer to dissipate. Thus, the fat cells cannot release the energy back into the bloodstream, and the other cells in the body end up starved of energy, causing hunger and triggering over-eating (since the body already has the fuel it needs, but simply does not have access to it). Tom Naughton created a short animation to illustrate this process:

Don't be fooled into thinking that 'complex carbohydrates' are better than simple, refined carbohydrates - the GI tract (the digestive tract in the body, from mouth to rectum) very quickly breaks down those links holding the sugar molecules together as starch, and processes the resulting sugars in a same way it does table sugar. The Drs. Eades explain this detail in Tom Naughton's film, Fat Head:

As Dr. Mary Dan Eades explains, insulin is designed to operate in emergencies, and yet we require it to do its job minute by minute. We should be making blood sugar from the protein we eat - in the traditional food environment pre-agriculture, we could not often cover our glucose needs from vegetation, unless we found tubers. We have not evolved to thrive on such high-sugar diets. Thanks to our high-sugar diets, we are suffering from the 'lifestyle diseases' of metabolic syndrome, obesity, obesity-related cancers, and heart diseases.

Tolerance of sugars and blood glucose responses differ from individual to individual, so experts like Dr. William Davis recommend monitoring your own blood sugar through at-home tests (the finger-prick system used by diabetics is practically ubiquitous in pharmacies these days).

"But I watch my blood sugar by only eating foods that have a low GI. That's fine, right?" Not quite. As Dr. William Davis says in his article, Is The Glycemic Index Irrelevant?:

High-glycemic index foods are bad for you. This includes foods made with white flour (bagels, white bread, pretzels). Low-glycemic foods (whole grain bread, whole wheat crackers, whole wheat pasta) are less bad for you—but they are not necessarily good.

Dr Kurt Harris of PaNu notes that the main villains in the standard American/Australian diet are wheat, fructose, and industrial vegetable oils. While he does not attack glucose directly (given that our bodies can make it, this makes sense), he does note that a glucose-abundant diet is far from what we evolved to consume:

In a food abundant environment, where there is no caloric deficit, carbohydrates as a large fraction of caloric intake create a situation where our metabolism is not spending enough time in or near the fat-burning state known as ketosis. The consequence of this is the metabolic syndrome, which is insulin resistance, diabetes, hypertension, obesity and a variety of other diseases that have highly suggestive lines of evidence connecting them to chronically increased levels of insulin and/or serum glucose – including coronary artery disease, deep venous thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, atrial fibrillation, atherosclerosis, alzheimer dementia, degenerative diseases and even the most common cancers like breast, colon, lung and prostate.

For more on this, check out Dr. Harris's elaboration on his first tenet of PaNu - "Eliminate sugar and refined carbohydrates like white flour."

In the video above, Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology, explores the damage caused by sugary foods. He argues that fructose (too much) and fiber (not enough) appear to be cornerstones of the obesity epidemic through their effects on insulin. It's not as simple as Lustig makes it sound, but this is a good starting point for those ignorant to the potential damage of excess sugar consumption.

Mark Sisson tackles grains with eloquence and accessibility in his Definitive Guide To Grains and his more cut-throat Why Grains Are Unhealthy posts.

Kurt Harris, MD, also knows a thing or two about the dangers of grain consumption; as a starting point, check out his Argument Against Cereal Grains I & II.

Even if you are one of the lucky 20-30% of the population who can handle wheat consumption on a digestive basis, it doesn't mean it isn't doing you permanent harm. Dr. William Davis lists a number of terrifying studies linking wheat consumption to a number of psychological disorders in his post, This Is Your Brain On Wheat.

Dr. Davis goes on to play a little guessing game of name that food:

Which common food can:

• Cause destructive intestinal damage that, if unrecognized, can lead to disability and death?
• Increase blood sugar higher and faster than table sugar?
• Trigger an autoimmune inflammatory condition in the thyroid (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis)?
• Create intestinal bloating, cramps, and alternating diarrhea and constipation, often labeled irritable bowel syndrome?
• Trigger schizophrenia in susceptible individuals?
• Cause behavioral outbursts in children with autism?
• Cause various inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, dermatitis herpetiformis, systemic lupus, pancreatic destruction, and increase measures of inflammation like c-reactive protein?
• Cause unexplained anemia, mood swings, fatigue, fibromyalgia, eczema, and osteoporosis?

The answer, of course, is wheat.

But it's not all doom and gloom - just look what can happen when you go wheat-free:

* Fat loss
* Blood test results improve across the board - blood sugar normalises, blood pressure drops, triglycerides drop by several hundred milligrams, HDL goes up, LDL plummets, c-reactive protein drops
* Improved sense of wellness & energy
* Improved rheumatoid arthritis
* Improved ulcerative colitis
* Reduction of elimination of irritable bowel syndrome
* Reduction or elimination of gastroesophageal reflux
* Incidence of mood swings and other mood disruptions are minimised or 'smoothed'.
* Increased libido
* Improved complexion

Dr. Davis' Heart Scan Blog is truly one of the best online resources available to us, and I highly recommend you make your way through his prolific body of work: here are the search results (recent articles first) for wheat, fructose, & low carb diets, just to get you started...

Nutrition & Cancer

Research of causal relationships between diet and cancer is an ever-exploding industry, lapped up by the media no matter how tenuous or inconclusive the particular study's conclusion may be - especially if the results can be twisted to suggest that the old Conventional Wisdom had it right all along. We usually don't end up receiving the true results, and many studies that can claim conclusive results are often dumped since the conclusion doesn't match up with what the scientists wanted to find... It's painful, and it's true of all aspects of 'nutrition science'. DC from DC's Improbable Science blog details this very issue in an article from last year, focussing on the widely-held belief that red meat & processed meats are giving us all cancer.

Dr. Michael R. Eades says: "Since cancers can't really get nourishment from anything but glucose, it stands to reason that cutting off this supply would, at the very least, slow down tumor growth, especially in aggressive, fast-growing cancers requiring a lot of glucose to fuel their rapid growth. If you understand the Warburg effect and the metabolism of cancer cells, it's easy to see why this therapy works, even in patients who at at death's door. Cancer cells get their energy, not like normal cells, from the mitochondrial oxidation of fat, but from glycolysis, the breakdown of glucose withing the cytoplasm."

On Dr. Stanley S. Bass' website, two analyses of studies exploring the link between diet and cancer cell growth are presented by Richard Friebe and Dr. Michael R. Eades. They explore the Warburg Effect - the spontaneous reversal of cancer progression when patients follow low-sugar diets. These accessible articles should be read by everyone who has cancer or knows a cancer sufferer, which in this day and age pretty much means everyone in the modern world.

Josh Yelon has analysed a range of studies concerning low-carb dieting's effect on cancer cell growth - Experiment Using Low-Carb To Treat Cancer. Look to his comments for a basic break-down of each studies' findings.

Although the causality is theoretical only, the history of cancer incidence in Inuit populations seem to align themselves strongly with the increase in refined carbohydrate consumption, so Ned Kock of Health Correlator details in his article, Cancer patterns in Inuit populations: 1950-1997.

Stephan Guyenet says - Got cancer? Corn Oil bad. Animal fats good (not helpful, but not harmful either). Well, at least in mice.

Living On The Fat Of The Land (The Carnivorous Lifestyle)

If you are considering trying an all-meat or wider carnivorous lifestyle, make sure you read the communication between Lex Rooker, a long-term zero-carber (one meal of ground, raw, red meat per day) and Kurt Harris, MD from PaNu - the conversation is quoted on Danny Roddy's blog, The Carnivore Health Weblog. In the same article, Danny discusses fat metabolism and points out the importance of eating to hunger and eating a REALLY high fat diet to ensure the body is willing to burn stored fats (i.e. isn't worried that it will need the stored fats any time soon - a touch illogical, huh?). This information comes from Peter's Hyperlipid blog, in a post entitled Weight Loss: When It's Hard.

Peter from Hyperlipid is an utter genius, and everyone should steadily read & do their best to make sense of every post on his blog. However, it has been hard to find places for his work in this guide since he doles out his genius in small doses! However, a couple of years ago he crafted a thorough analysis of whether fruit & vegetable consumption was in ANY way related to improved health. Answer = no. Not that this is a surprise to those of us currently keeping up with nutrition research and analysis - fructose consumption is being revealed as anything but the healthful substance it has been made out to be during these years of sugar (glucose) attacks.


Bizymoms interviewed Stephan Guyenet recently, resulting in an excellent Q&A write-up that neatly deals with most of the nutrition & health links that are of concern to us today. His answers are concise, accessible, and effortlessly intelligent. I can see this one being sent around to friends via email.


Head Case said...

This is a great overview of a lot of things I've been trying to pull together.

Thanks, bookmarking.

Rick said...

Great job pulling all this together. Thanks!


2bfit said...

LOVE your blog! wanted to share a blog post a friend of mine put together on the cholesterol dilemna with some additional links to yours. thanks for putting together all of this information in one spot!

lisan said...

Thank you so much for this post. Such a pleasure to read yet so much time obviously went into creating it. This synopsis of valid information and provision of references is a gift and I am sending the link to this post out to many health-minded associates. Thanks again!

andrenna said...

Hi! Thank you so much for writing this blog entry! It's great! I heard Gary Taubes on NPR and since then I started researching the effects of grains/carbs/sugars on our bodies. It has profoundly changed my perspective on diets.

Anonymous said...

What a tremendous job you've done putting this together. It's a lovely overview and a great service. Thank you.

Buttongirl said...

Thank you! I'm going to point my friends and family to this posting from now on, instead of trying to write my own. :)

Barry Erdman said...

Thank you for putting all these links together. Great job! It's taken me more than 2 years to discover on my own what you have posted here. Glad to come across someone else who's "on the same page". Big Thanks again... I'll be sending a link to everyone I know.

Ray Sawhill said...

Outrageous great posting, many tks.

bbarrons said...

awesome job putting this all together! SO much information out there yet no one wants to read, they just want to tell us low carbers we are going to die someday.... they dont know from what yet, but low carbing will kill you. If I die from low carbing it will be because I was trying to get thru the traffic light to get to that chicken that was crossing the road.... He looked so plump.... :-)

Julianne said...

This is an outstanding collection of information - thank you so much for putting it together! I hope it is all right with you if I drive some traffic your way by sending this link to some friends! ;)

Anonymous said...

Great, great post!!!
Thank you so much.
Jose, from Uruguay.

Kristjan said...

Wow this is a really excellent post, good job!

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