The Good, the Bad and the Ugly II

I’ve always thought that explaining how science goes wrong is the best way to explain how science really works. There is a beauty in the clever ways that trials can be rigged by design, and it speaks to the reasons we do trials in the first place: because we want them to be fair test of which treatment works best. 

Ben Goldacre

In the first installment, we looked at a couple good things in the news of health and nutrition. But sadly, there’s even more in the bad and ugly. Today…the bad. Tomorrow…the ugly–a brazen attempt by “researchers” with a vested financial interest in non-animal protein sources to scare you into not eating meat. It’s very ugly, and it’s what I’m most anxious to get to. Several of you Faithful Readers have also asked me about it, and your suspicions are right: it’s horrific science and meaningless to your eating habits.

However I don’t wish to ignore other bad science. That wouldn’t be fair, so I’ll restrain myself and save the protein article for the last post.

The Bad:

…that’s not what the article is talking about at all.

It’s not eating fat that anyone was studying, it was the brains of fat people.

Oh no, wait.

Not people.


See, what they did was to overfeed a bunch of rats and get them fat. Then they found inflammation markers in the rats’ brains and looked at how the inflammation was affecting the brain (the fat mice were more stupider). Then they forced the mice to exercise and saw brain functions improve.

I hardly know where to start. In the first place, OF COURSE if a rat has a lot of fat tissue being released into his system it increases inflammation markers. If mammals ingest toxins, they store them in their fat. Toxins are what processed, sugary, seed-oil rife, non-food is full of: the kind of stuff that makes both you and the rats fat. The stuff they feed these rats is abysmal. But eating a clean piece of roast beef or chicken doesn’t do the same thing. If you’re eating Ding-Dongs, spray-cheese stuffed hot dogs, and cheap white loaf bread from the store, there might be some analogies we can draw to the rats’ disgusting chow. But if you’re eating homemade cheesecake, ground beef, and butter, there isn’t.

In the second place, mammals that put on weight quickly do so because a diet high in carbohydrates (which rat chow is) spikes the blood sugar at every meal and makes the mammal gradually more resistant to insulin. As they become more resistant, insulin levels rise. Then there’s a crash as blood sugar plummets. High blood sugar, low blood sugar (not consistently low blood sugar as you get from eating low carb, but hypoglycemic crashes you get as a carb-addict when you need another fix) and high insulin levels are all related to diminished brain function. And the interleukin 1 levels they discovered in the brains of these rats were consistent with problems in insulin regulation.

Of course these poor rats were stupid.

This also explains why exercising-even when it didn’t change the rats weight–helped their brain functions. It’s not magic. If there’s any sugar in your blood stream, exercise turns first to that sugar as a fuel source.

Incidentally, this is why you often read the nonsense that “glucose is the body’s preferred fuel source.” That’s bunk. Most of the body runs more efficiently off of fat-that’s why God made it so your body stores extra energy in the form of fat, not glucose. What is meant by that phrasing is “your body burns the glucose first, so we figure it must like the glucose most.” This is a logical error. Actually, what your body is doing is protecting you. High blood sugar is unquestionably toxic and dangerous-the body protects itself by burning glucose or converting it to fat and storing it as fast as it can.

Exercise can help with weight loss at times, not because you are burning calories, but because if you exercise after eating carbohydrates it can help you get rid of that extra glucose before it can be turned to fat. (It’s not so much “weight loss” as it is “weight gain prevention.” And don’t fall for either of these popular logical errors:  1. Hey! This means I can eat some bread and a brownie every day as long as I run afterward! or 2. I’ll go to the gym before we pig out and cancel out the gluttony. If you’re doing either of those things, I don’t want to hear it when you complain the low-carb diet isn’t working for you.)


So when the rats exercised, maybe they burned off the sugar they were eating. This is a perfectly reasonable explanation for their improved brain function: more stable blood sugar levels.

In the third place, we’re not rodents. And here’s where the real problem lies. This is not a finished study. This study has no significance to a human being at all. And by that I don’t mean that testing rats is useless. It’s very useful. The problem is it is just the first step. You don’t test a rat, draw an unproven hypothesis from this test, and then tell human beings this is “proof” they should do or not do something. Folks, this little study isn’t “news.” All it is is a hypothesis generator. I generated one myself, stated above, and have no more right to declare it gospel than the researchers do theirs.

Take an educated guess as to why this is happening to the rats. Then go to the next step and test your hypothesis. Once the tests prove it well enough that you can call it a theory, then start in humans–does the same thing happen?  I’ve mentioned before, but research into the fate of the world’s many scientific hypotheses tells us that around 80% are ultimately proven false. With that kind of track record, why would any sane person jump when some report yells “hypothesis!”?

There are so many unanswered questions in this report. What mechanism caused this effect? By what mechanism is exercise improving it? Has enough data been collected to ensure that it’s the exercise actually improving it, or is it only seeming to do so? Would it have the same effect on a human as a rat? Are there are any physiological negatives to a rat being forced to run when he doesn’t want to? How about a human? Would those negatives and positives be the same for different species? How do they balance?

Nope…we don’t even think about these questions. We just hit rats with compressed air to make them run, draw a quick correlation, and then tell you–all of you, whatever your age, weight, health condition, joint condition, gender–to get your big, fat asses up on the hamster wheel and get going.

  • How about a little champagne for plastics? Presenting us with another good reason to avoid bread, we find that many companies–including manufacturers of “healthy” breads–are using azodicarbonamide in their products. Allow me to explain it to you in my own words:

Once upon a time, in the Land of Plastics, The Scientist had a problem. He was tired of doing his morning exercises on the hard, cold floor. His muscles ached. His joints ached. He searched and searched for an answer to his problem. Then, one day, he found azodicarbonamide. When The Scientist found it, he was very happy. When he threw azodicarbonamide into his vats, he found that it aerated the plastic, making it more elastic. And that is how the yoga mat was invented.

But people in the Land of Plastics had great faith in The Scientist. All that he did was Good and Wonderful and Progress and Healthily. It was inevitable for someone in the Land of Plastics to eventually look at The Scientist’s work and say: Hey! Why not throw this stuff in our food and see what happens?

Great was the joy among Those Who Manufacture Dough when they found it also made the dough more elastic and light! For if their dough was lighter and had some corn syrup in it, it would be sweeter and fluffier than Homemade Bread. Thus the people of Land of Plastics would feel their homemade bread was dense and prefer the bread of Those Who Manufacture Dough. It would also be cheaper than making the dough fluffy the real way, which takes time and expertise in baking, and thus hourly-wage 16-year-olds at Subway who Cannot Remember Whether You Said Mustard or Ketchup could transform into Master Bakers just by pushing the correct buttons on the correct machines and sliding in dough from Those Who Manufacture Dough. Thus would Those Who Manufacture Dough amass great wealth provide delicious bread at a reasonable price for all.


Azodicarbonamide is closely associated with an increased risk of asthma and skin allergies–but how many times have we preached here that association is not causation? That’s not the issue.

Here’s the issue: why is it even an issue? Bread is made from water, yeast, and flour. You can also add salt, egg, milk, and a few others things if you want; but you don’t even need to do that to get real bread. Why should the ingredients on a loaf of bread in the store include 20 different things?* Why should the FDA be approving any non-food as safe to add to your food?

I have on my desk right now a tube of Cetaphil handcream. What if I said to you, Here, put a little of this in your coffee tomorrow. If you had any sense, you’d reply: Why on earth would I do that? It’s not food. Isn’t it a huge waste of my money as a taxpayer for a governmental body to be spending money testing things that aren’t food to see if we can eat them? After humans having been successfully feeding themselves with actual food for thousands and thousands of years? Is all this non-food in our food working out for us when our whole society seems to be getting less healthy each decade since we started adding non-foods into our foods to see what happened?

An association, to be sure: but wouldn’t the FDA’s my money be better spent investigating whether all the junk added to food since the 40s or so has any connection to our exponentially decreasing health, than in investigating whether there’s another copolymer that we can stuff in some of our food?

But no one seems to have the sense to ask these questions. This is much like when the FDA assured us all that most of the dog foods and infant formulas coming out of China–where infants’ livers were failing and dogs were dropping dead from melamine poisoning–were “safe” because they contained only minimal amounts of melamine. They actually talked about establishing (and maybe did) a maximum melamine count for food. No one ever seemed to ask WHY? WHY should there be ANY amount of a poison in my baby’s formula?

It doesn’t occur naturally. It isn’t functioning as a preservative. It doesn’t add anything of nutritional value–melamine is a byproduct of plastics manufacturing, and the sole function of adding it was to fake positives in protein tests so that formulas and dog foods looked like they had more protein than they actually did. Why do we need any “minimum melamine count” at all? Why does a hot dog bun need any azodicarbonamide at all? How is this different from saying that because I’ve discovered that some cyanide will make you want to drink more of it, I’m going to add .049mg of cyanide to your Koolaid every day–after all, .049mg is under the minimum risk level of .05mg?

* Enriched flour, water, yeast, sugar, wheat gluten, soybean oil, malted barley flour, salt, sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate, diacetylated tartaric acid esters of mono and diglycerides, calcium sulphate, ammonium sulphate, yeast extract, maltodextrin, ascorbic acid, xylanase, potassium iodate, azodicarbonamide.


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