Category Archives: Nutrition

Nutrition & Health Experts You Shouldn’t Trust – Updates

With the growing amount of misinformation on nutrition and health, it’s getting more difficult for people to figure out what is based in good science.  And if you’re wondering if a certain individual, program, or website is legitimate, it is not straightforward to find out . . .

The prefix “Dr” can’t be trusted (hello Dr Oz, Perlmutter, Davis, Lundel, Berg . . . ). Many of these health gurus cherry-pick studies – that is, they cite  the research that supports their opinion without considering the body of scientific evidence.  Also, they often promise their diet/supplement/program will cure whatever ails you and provide alluring anecdotes to sell their stories (and often dietary supplements . . .).  Another common narrative is a conspiracy focus, or telling readers that decades of nutrition/health research is wrong . . .

Check here for my growing list of Nutrition & Health Experts You Shouldn’t Trust.  Here are some of the latest additions . . .

David “Avocado” Wolfe

David Avocado Wolfe VaccineThis pseudoscience peddler has a thing for names – beyond using “avocado” as his middle name (which places him above David Perlmutter on my list), he calls himself “the rock star and Indiana Jones of the superfoods and longevity universe.” If that is not enough to get your pseudoscience spidey senses tingling,  there is plenty more.  His stories and scams  prey on science illiteracy and he makes plenty of money from his followers. For example, he claims that high frequency radio waves are “unnatural” and dangerous (but you can buy expensive pillow cases and sheets at his online store to protect you); and invents food scare tactics so that you can buy his “superfood” supplements; and discourages vaccines and effective cancer treatments in favor of his woo.  He is very good at marketing and draws people in with cute memes – he has a popular facebook page (723K fans)  and at least seven different websites.

Dave Aspey – Bulletproof Executive

BulletproofDave Aspey, the bulletproof executive, is an entrepreneur, blogger, and paleo proponent who is good at selling things but doesn’t know much about health or nutrition (but tries to sound sciency by citing cherry picked studies to back up his dubious claims).  His main claim to fame is Bulletproof® coffee, which I wrote about here.  Claims for bulletproof coffee include that it helps burn fat, provides lasting energy, improves focus, helps gain muscle, increases mental acuity, helps digestion, and improves heart health.

But  . . . you need to buy his special  Upgraded™ coffee  that is low in mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are a form of mold found on coffee beans and in greater amounts on many other foods (e.g., raisins, peanuts, beer, wine, pork, corn, sweet potatoes): most mycotoxins on coffee beans are destroyed by roasting, and there is no evidence that low levels are harmful to health.

Bulletproof coffee is not a healthy breakfast: it provides about 460 calories and about 47 g fat (mostly saturated), taking the place of protein, healthy fats, carbohydrates, fiber, and vitamins and minerals that are essential for good health. There is no good evidence that a breakfast of coffee with large quantities of saturated fat (butter and oil) delivers any of the laundry list of benefits beyond potential short-term cognitive or long-term health benefits of coffee.

 
READ  Healthy or Hype? Buttered/Bulletproof Coffee

Why stop at coffee when you can make so much money? Beyond his bulletproof coffee Aspey sells books and a variety of products (supplements, foods, technologies, coaching) claiming to improve health.  And of course, there is the bulletproof diet (a “revolutionary” weight loss plan. . . but works best with his products), described so well by health and science writer Julia Beluz as follows:

“The Bulletproof Diet is like a caricature of a bad fad-diet book. If you took everything that’s wrong with eating in America, put it in a Vitamix, and shaped the result into a book, you’d get the Bulletproof Diet.

The book is filled with dubious claims based on little evidence or cherry picked studies that are taken out of context. The author, Dave Asprey, vilifies healthy foods and suggests part of the way to achieve a “pound a day” weight loss is to buy his expensive, “science-based” Bulletproof products.”

Dwight Lundel

Dwight LundellYou may have seen a viral post “World Renowned Heart Surgeon Speaks Out On What Really Causes Heart Disease.”  In the post Lundell proclaims that decades of research and guidelines for heart disease prevention are wrong (the “we’ve been lied to” narrative that is so popular . . .) , and the he has the answer in his books “The Cure for Heart Disease” or “The Great Cholesterol Lie.”

Heart disease is complex, as is the science of how different kinds of foods affect our bodies and the role that different kinds of fats play in disease.  The evidence-based to date does not support Lundel’s oversimplified ideas.

Eric Berg

Eric Berg is a popular health and wellness “expert” (actually a chiropractor who has ventured beyond his realm of expertise). He has a website and many videos promoting unscientific health advice, and books including  The 7 Principles of Fat Burning: Get Healthy, Lose Weight, and Keep it Off! and Dr. Berg’s Body Shapes Diets.  Some of  his bogus health and wellness treatments have included Body Response Technique, Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Technique, Contact Reflex Analysis, and testing with an Acoustic Cardiograph. His unsubstantiated claims for his therapeutic treatments have been the subject of disciplinary action by the Virginia Board of Medicine.   Some of his treatments relate to “adrenal fatigue” – a term not recognized by any endocrinology society and a syndrome that experts have confirmed does not exist.

Some of his diet advice is extremely and unnecessarily restrictive (anti-wheat; anti-carbohydrate); he advocates weight loss based on a bogus hormone body type (adrenal, ovary, liver, thyroid); talks about “fat burning” hormones (they don’t exist); and includes a “detox phase” in his diet plan (a term that should raise your quack alarm).

As typical with many of these so-called health experts, his website includes a shop with unproven supplements (e.g. adrenal body type package, estrogen balance kit) that beyond being a complete waste of money, could quite possibly do you more harm than good.

Kris Carr

Kris CarrKris Carr is a self-proclaimed cancer-lifestyle guru with a very large following. She is not an oncologist, an expert in nutrition, or a scientist who knows how to interpret research.  All cancers are different and respond to different treatments.  Her advice about diets is not accurate, and she recommends detoxes and cleanses.

For example, she advocates juicing because ” alkaline juices help to detoxify your body.  They raise your pH and help pull out old waste from your colon and tissues.”   First of all, detoxing is a myth,  as is the influence of acid or alkaline foods on health.  The environment in which foods are digested is complex, and many scientists question the accuracy of methods used to calculate the acidity of foods (more about alkaline diets here).  She recommends fasting because it “removes stored toxins and excess waste” a statement that makes no sense.

Lifestyle habits and nutrition can certainly play a role in the incidence and survival of some cancers, but Kris Carr is not a good source for this information.  For terrific free science-based information on this topic, visit the American Institute for Cancer Research.

For more Nutrition & Health experts you shouldn’t trust, see this page or the list below.

I will keep adding, but am limited because . . .

The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.” – Alberto Brandolini

 

 

 

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Healthy or Hype? Turmeric

Turmeric seems to be everywhere these days. This signature spice that lends curries and mustards their distinct colour is now popping up in unlikely foods and beverages like golden spice lattes, hot chocolate, and even sodas.

And you can count on more foods adopting turmeric’s characteristic yellow-orange hue, as the turmeric food trend is a strong one. A recent Google food trend analysis ranks turmeric as the number 1 rising star, as interest in turmeric has grown significantly in a short period.

Source: Google internal data, August 2015-February 2016, United States
Source: Google internal data, August 2015-February 2016, United States

The Internet is a go-to source for information about food and health. But teasing out the evidence-based information from the hype is becoming increasingly more difficult.  Is the turmeric trend supported by the body of scientific evidence?

What Is Turmeric?

Turmeric and Turmeric powder on white background

Turmeric comes from the thick root of the turmeric plant: it looks a bit like a small ginger root, and cooks prepare it in a similar way to add a subtle earthy flavour and bright colour to dishes.  If you are new to cooking with turmeric, be aware that turmeric can stain hands, clothes, and even cooking utensils bright yellow orange (historically turmeric was a popular dye, and some use it as a dye today).   Most people are more familiar with turmeric ground to a golden powder, which is available in the spice isle of most grocery stores.

Health Claims

Recognized as an ancient home remedy in Asia, and commonplace in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, many believe that turmeric has medicinal properties.  A quick search reveals turmeric as a “cure-all.” The claims for turmeric’s healing properties are wide ranging — from improving cognitive function, cardiovascular function, and weight loss to fighting cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, arthritis, headaches, depression, digestive diseases, the common cold, and many more health conditions.  No wonder people are sprinkling turmeric on everything. . . (whether it tastes good or not).  Does this sound too good to be true?

Evidence

A large body of research has looked into turmeric and health, focusing on curcumin, a polyphenol compound thought to be responsible for turmeric’s potential therapeutic effects. Curcumin makes up only about 3-5% of turmeric.

Curcumin, the potential health-promoting compound, makes up only about 3-5% of turmeric
Curcumin is the potential health-promoting compound in turmeric

Preclinical studies suggested that curcumin’s anti-inflammatory action might help prevent or treat various chronic diseases.  Though promising, it is important to categorize this research as preliminary or hypothesis generating, as much of it is “in vitro” (conducted in test tubes) or in animals. Researchers have studied curcumin in humans, but results have been inconclusive. Also, best to interpret this research with caution as most studies had a small number of participants, short durations, and many did not compare curcumin to a placebo. Though we shouldn’t generalize conclusions from these small-scale studies, their findings can inform larger scale trials.

Another issue with research in humans is that the body doesn’t absorb regular curcumin very well:  you can consume a lot of it, but very little reaches the blood or tissues where it can have a clinical effect.  Research shows that rodents absorb little (<1%) of the curcumin they consume. However, one line of research is investigating ways to improve absorption: for example, some studies suggest that black pepper boosts the bioavailability of curcumin.

So, turmeric contains <5% of curcumin, and most of this tiny amount isn’t bioavailable . . . why are so many stretching the culinary uses of this standard curry spice to desserts and convincing themselves that turmeric flavoured smoothies “taste good,” or are even “good for you?”Turmeric Smoothie Healthy

It’s too easy to be persuaded of turmeric’s potential healing powers. Those championing turmeric’s benefits are citing individual studies without proper scientific context.  Critically evaluating the available research is a challenge and requires substantial expertise. Luckily, a new comprehensive review published in January 2017 has done just that. Investigators at the University of Minnesota reviewed the evidence for curcumin, which included thousands of studies and over 120 clinical trials.  The authors raise important questions about the research and comment that curcumin’s health benefits are “much ado about nothing.”

There is no rigorous human study (double-blinded, placebo controlled clinical trial) showing benefit to turmeric.  Another serious problem overlooked by many is that curcumin’s chemical structure is unstable and can produce “false hits” in studies – i.e., showing that it is acting on a disease-causing protein, when it really isn’t.

What about Curcumin Supplements?

Are concentrated supplements of turmeric’s potential beneficial compound (curcumin) a good choice?  It seems many North Americans think so, as the market for curcumin is large (US$20 million in 2014) and growing.  And marketing by the likes of Dr Oz, Dr Hyman, Dr Mercola, or the Food Babe always persuades many. Curcumin supplements are likely a waste of money, as the recent comprehensive research review shows that they lack sufficient evidence of efficacy.Curumin Supplements Scientific Evidence

In general, you should be wary of all dietary supplements and their claims. The supplement industry is unregulated (which means questionable dosage, efficacy, and safety), but clever marketing manages to persuade many.

Bottom Line

Although many studies have investigated turmeric/curcumin, and some have shown promise, at this point these findings aren’t good enough evidence to suggest that consuming turmeric improves any health condition.  It’s important to consider the preliminary nature of the research and recent review questioning of curcumin’s biological activity. Turmeric is certainly not a cure-all panacea as some have touted.  More research may help uncover specific benefits to curcumin or other compounds in turmeric.

Typical North Indian spicy dish or cuisine called Chana Masala
Using turmeric in healthful dishes is a great idea!

But cooking with spices like turmeric is a great idea.  These plant-based seasonings can flavour food deliciously without the need for excess salt or fat.  And looking for recipes featuring turmeric may help you cook more and inspire you to prepare healthful dishes.  But even if effective, turmeric is a small-player for promoting health and preventing disease: better to focus efforts on eating a good diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting enough physical activity, measures that have proven benefits for health and well-being.

Healthy or Hype Series

More Healthy or Hype Resources at this link.

Healthy Or Hype General

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What Happens When the Media Misinterprets the Findings of Scientific Studies?

Media Reporting of Nutrition Research

The media has a tremendous influence on our health decisions, and unfortunately good health and science reporting is often overshadowed by attention-grabbing headlines.  Nutrition and health studies are quite popular in the news media, and often poorly reported.

The general public does not have a good understanding of the scientific process, research design, or nutrition epidemiology.  So it is critical for health reporters to help readers understand what the research means to them. They can do this by interviewing the right experts in the field, putting the research in context, and considering the cumulative scientific knowledge in the area.

Here is a hilariously funny and well-researched piece on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight. Oliver explains how the media misinterprets the findings of scientific studies, providing real examples. His clever delivery informs, educates, and will certainly make you laugh.

A consequence of poor reporting is confusion. How many times have we heard

“researchers keep changing their minds”

about what to eat for good health.  Because expert consensus is important to foster trust in science,  poor reporting can fuel this distrust. And this is worrying because such distrust can have serious consequences; for example, distrust or poor understanding of science is the reason some people question the efficacy or safety of vaccines, putting the health of many at risk.

More Reading:

Healthy Or HypeHealthy or Hype?

Along these lines, I’ve been working on a section of my website to help point readers to trusted sources of nutrition information (and highlight sources you should steer clear of).

Here are some of my resources to help you find information based on the best available scientific evidence.

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Do You Need a Writer or an Editor?

Health and Science Writing 

If you need blog, website, or print content related to health research, food, fitness, nutrition, and health,  I can help. I can present complex material in a clear, persuasive manner for a range of audiences. I have co-authored scientific publications, technical manuals, written a food guide and cookbook, and created over 200 newsletters with topics from cancer research to food preparation and recipes.

Design and Layout. I can also take care of the design, graphics, layout, and presentation of the final product.

You can view samples of my work by clicking on the following topics:

Health Education Materials

I have over 20 years experience developing educational and technical materials related to disease prevention, nutrition, weight control, physical activity, food, cooking, and athletic performance.  My research background and studies in health promotion help me produce effective content that motivates behavior change.  Beyond the writing, I can design and format the materials to produce an eye-catching layout.

Health Communication Graphics. I create health communication graphic elements for print, online, and social media campaigns.

Scientific Grant Proposal Editing

A well-written and presented research plan will improve the quality of your grant proposal. A good editor helps save researchers time and can improves chances of funding.   I am especially skilled at helping researchers who are struggling with page limits.

My services include the following, as needed:

  • Standard editing and proofreading (spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax)
  • Formatting per funding agency guidelines
  • Substantive editing (rewriting to improve readability and word reduction editing)
  • Improve visual presentation, formatting of figures, tables, graphs.
  • Create or revise figures and tables to improve presentation and readability.

I have years of experience working on projects from small-scale proposals, to multi-site clinical trial applications, to large collaborative grants.  I appreciate the tight deadlines associated with grant applications and can usually offer a quick turnaround. Clients include investigators from UC San Diego Health Sciences (School of Medicine, Department of Family Medicine and Public HealthMoores Cancer Center) and San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health.

Scientific Manuscript Editing Services

I also help write and edit scientific manuscripts. The services are similar to those described above.

Reasonable rates and quick turnaround!

Please contact me if you are interested in working with me. You can view my LinkedIn profile here.

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