Top Censored Story of 2015-16 – The Lies Of Evidence-Based Medical Studies
By Graham Vanbergen – ‘Project Censored’ reveals each year the top 25 most censored stories in the United States with the No1 censored story of 2015-2016 being that US military forces are now deployed in 70 per cent of the worlds nations. However, the No2 most censored story in the US was covered by TruePublica in August 2015, namely this one you’re about to read right now about falsified medical studies.
The project Censored article “Crisis in evidence-based medicine” focuses on how medical studies are ‘translated’ to such an extent that they are totally distorted by mainstream media simply to get more hits to websites (click-baiting) or sell more newspapers and magazines, irrespective of the truth or social consequences. It cites the Lancet’s editor, Richard Horton who is clearly more than just despondent about what is happening. Our article was more of a warning to our readers about what we read in the MSM that could change our behaviour, and not actually for our benefit, especially when it comes to food and what we consume in particular.
Here is our original article entitled – Superfoods: Myths, Lies and Deception.
Every day there’s a new crop of seemingly life-changing headlines about how the food we eat affects our health such as “Curry could save your life.” from The Independent, or “Beetroot can fight dementia.”from The Express and “Asthma risk linked to burgers” from the BBC.
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We all know that a good diet is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, so it’s not surprising that newspapers, magazines and the internet are full of stories about miracle superfoods and killer snacks. Of course, there’s more to it than that. There’s a vast industry devoted to finding new ways to persuade us to eat this or that food and an army of scientists bent on exploring the links between what we eat and how healthy we feel.
Unfortunately, much of what is reported can be either inaccurate or unhelpful. The news is full of contradictory reports and often the same food is declared healthy one day and harmful the next.
Take alcohol. The Daily Mail reports “Alcohol is good for your health: Leading science writer claims tipple can prevent cancer and may help improve your sex life“. As if to deliberately confuse, it also reports – “Why drinking is bad for you until your mid-30s” but just to really confuse it also reports that “Moderate drinking IS bad for your health”
Sometimes it’s reported to be good for your health, while other times it’s bad. Some days we’re told to drink in moderation, while on others even a single glass is too much.
The facts about the latest dietary discoveries are rarely as simple as the headlines imply.
Accurately testing how any one element of our diet may affect our health is fiendishly difficult. And this means scientists’ conclusions, and media reports of them, should routinely be taken with a pinch of salt.
What is a superfood?
More than half of the articles reported in newspapers that discuss a foodstuff do so with a focus on some sort of benefit.
But what really seems to capture the imagination of journalists and consumers is the idea that a single food, sometimes called a superfood, can confer remarkable health benefits.
There is no official definition of a superfood and the EU has banned the use of the word on product packaging unless the claim is backed up by convincing research. A number of well-known brands have been forced to drop the description. However, there are still some proponents of the term, in spite of its loose definition.
News headlines, meanwhile, abound with claims that certain foods have super health benefits. Celery, broccoli, jam, popcorn and cereals have all been hyped as superfoods in the past couple of years. Other foods are said to be packed with chemicals that can ward off major killers such as cancer and heart disease.
Wine, as we have already seen is widely reported but, can allegedly:
- “add five years to your life”
- “help keep teeth healthy”
- “protect your eyes”
- make women “less likely to gain weight” – While broccoli can allegedly “undo diabetes damage”, “stop breast cancer spreading” and “protect the lungs”.
Even our beloved cuppa has been given superfood status. Black tea has been alleged to protect against heart disease. Green tea can supposedly cut the risk of prostate cancer. And it has been claimed that camomile can keep diabetes under control.
Miracle claims are also made for chocolate, including that a daily bar “can cut the risk of heart attack and stroke”.
And it’s not uncommon for headlines to claim the most miraculous health benefit of all – that a food can save your life. The following are all genuine claims from UK media from the past two years:
- “21⁄2 bottles of wine a week can save your life”
- “A daily dose of garlic can save your life”
- “Just one bite of chocolate a day can help save your life”
And there are thousands of more articles and reports claiming all sorts of miracle cures.
The trouble with food research
Of course, the truth is that these claims are almost always overstated. Unfortunately, research into the effects of single foods on our health is notoriously tricky to carry out. We have complex diets and it is difficult to disentangle the effects of one particular food or compound from all of the others we consume. This means that many of the studies behind the superfood claims have limitations. These limitations are rarely reported in the media, and even more rarely given their true significance.
In addition, in the past few years more professionals have come forward to share a truth that, for many people, proves difficult to swallow. One such authority is Dr. Richard Horton, the current editor-in-chief of the Lancet – considered to be one of the most well respected peer-reviewed medical journals in the world.
“The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.”
He also went on to call himself out in a sense, stating that journal editors aid and abet the worst behaviours, that the amount of bad research is alarming, that data is sculpted to fit a preferred theory. He goes on to observe that important confirmations are often rejected and little is done to correct bad practices. What’s worse, much of what goes on could even be considered borderline misconduct.
Dr. Marcia Angell, a physician and longtime Editor-in-Chief of the New England Medical Journal (NEMJ), which is considered to be another one of the most prestigious peer-reviewed medical journals in the world, makes her view of the subject quite plain:
“It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines”.
“I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of the New England Journal of Medicine”.
Many newspapers take the opportunity to indulge in some shameless clickbaiting by showing photos of various foods, cancerous tumours and the like to report completely false stories simply to gain numbers onto their website – as in this example HERE
Generally, the best type of study for finding out if a food has any effect is a randomised controlled trial (RCT). RCTs can avoid some of the problems of other studies and there is usually more confidence in their results. In RCTs, participants are assigned randomly to different groups to decide which intervention (in food studies, which diet or dietary supplement) they will receive. This is the best way to generate groups that are balanced for known and unknown factors that could affect the results. A control group that is not exposed to the intervention is used as a comparison. This means that any differences seen between the groups can be attributed to the differences in diet or dietary supplement used.
RCTs are not always feasible for looking at the long-term health effects of a specific food. RCTs are expensive and people may not be willing to alter their diet for an extended period. Therefore, the randomised trials that are performed usually measure the results of short-term consumption of a food or test the active component of a food taken as supplement.
Interestingly, one randomised trial that looked at fish oil and cognitive function in 867 elderly people, found no significant difference in cognitive function between fish oil supplements and placebo. There’s been much excitement surrounding the possible effect of fish oils on cognitive function, yet this study, one of the few RCTs looking at this area, came up with negative results. This may be because this is a better quality study, but it also lasted only two years, which, as the researchers say, may have been too short a period to detect any effect.
Studies and their results
A study that suggested that green tea could reduce the likelihood of developing prostate cancer found that men who drank five cups of green tea a day were about half as likely to develop advanced prostate cancer as those who drank only one cup. This study involved nearly 66,000 men in Japan, who were followed for 14 years. It was a study with a large number of participants and a long follow-up, both of which are strengths. But it’s possible that men who drink lots of green tea are also more likely to adhere to a traditional Japanese diet. This means diet may be a confounding factor. In fact, this is partly what the researchers found – that men who drank more green tea also ate more miso and soy, as well as fruit and vegetables. They also differed in other ways from men who drank less green tea. So it’s difficult to say for certain whether the green tea is responsible for the lower risk of cancer or whether other elements in the diet were involved.
There’s been a lot of excitement, for example, about resveratrol, a compound found in red wine that has been shown to extend the life of yeasts, roundworms, fruit flies and also obese mice fed a high-calorie diet. Studies of this compound have suggested that resveratrol may cause cellular changes that have a positive effect on age-related processes, and may possibly have other benefits.
However, the doses of resveratrol used in lab studies bear no relation to how much resveratrol humans can realistically get from drinking red wine. In one study, which found resveratrol helped stop abnormal growth of blood vessels in the eyes of mice, the human equivalent of the dose given would be several bottles of wine a day, which would kill you quite quickly.
Before you reach for the resveratrol supplements (which do exist), bear in mind that just because this compound was associated with cellular changes in mice and some invertebrates, that doesn’t mean it will have the same effect in humans. Animal studies are a valuable first step in finding out more about the active ingredients in a food or drink, but we need to wait for the results of clinical trials to find out if the same results hold true for humans.
Funding and independence
It’s important to know the source of funding in food studies, as with drug studies. One study that claimed chocolate lowered stress levels involved only 30 healthy young adults and had numerous flaws, including a very short follow-up period of just 14 days. It was also funded by a large chocolate manufacturer.
Eating greens reduces cancer risk or does it?
Eating more non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli, is associated with a reduced risk of cancer according to the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) systematic review on cancer prevention. It is possible that some of the compounds in broccoli may have health benefits, but this is not proven and clinical trials are needed to investigate this.
No evidence that oily fish boosts brain power
A Cochrane systematic review from 2006 found that at that point there was no evidence from RCTs about whether omega-3 fats (thought to be one of the “active ingredients” in oily fish) could reduce the risk of cognitive impairment or dementia. As we mentioned earlier, a subsequent placebo-controlled RCT has found that a daily fish oil supplement given for two years did not improve cognitive function in cognitively healthy older adults. This single RCT does not rule out the possibility that longer- term supplementation might affect cognitive performance or help those who are already cognitively impaired, but it does suggest that the effects of omega-3 fats on cognitive performance are not clear-cut.
Chocolate may lower blood pressure but…
Systematic reviews of RCTs in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Archives of Internal Medicine and Nature have found that cocoa or chocolate can reduce blood pressure. However, they identified no RCTs looking at the effects on important clinical outcomes such as cardiovascular disease or mortality. Chocolate of any variety is high in fat, sugar and calories and, if eaten to excess, is likely to increase the risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Whether any potential benefits of eating a moderate amount of chocolate can outweigh the potential harms remains to be seen.
A Mediterranean diet increases the chance of living to a healthy old age
There’s also good evidence supporting the health benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet. The Mediterranean diet is high in fish, olive oil and fruit and vegetables, while containing relatively little meat. One systematic review, published in the British Medical Journal, shows that this type of diet can reduce the risk of some chronic diseases and increase the chances of living to a healthy old age.
A balanced diet
You will have gathered by now that there’s no real evidence that superfoods exist, if by that we mean a single food or compound that will keep us healthy, stop illness in its tracks or save our life.
When it comes to keeping healthy, it’s best not to concentrate on any one food in the hope it will work miracles. Current advice is to eat a balanced diet with a range of foods, to ensure you get enough of the nutrients your body needs. Limiting your intake of alcohol and high fat, high sugar, salty and processed foods, keeping to a healthy weight and regular physical activity are also important.
There are no shortcuts or easy ways of lengthening your life or hacks that cure illnesses that we fear the most, which is what most of these dubious newspaper headlines and so-called medical studies are aiming at in the first place. Unfortunately, they play on our fears that ultimately do influence the way we go about our lives. Be vigilant.