Stop reading crap in The Daily Fail!
Stop reading crappy articles in the media! They do almost everyone more harm than good, they really are hopeless, they serve only to sell newspapers and attract online traffic, to help the media site sell to advertisers.
We see all this garbage, news articles like “Drinking red wine does you as much good as going to the gym” and “Drinking coffee helps fight bowel cancer” and “Just 6 minutes of exercise is better for you than hours every day…” and “Eat more cabbage to prevent heart disease” or “Study shows eating sausages cures Parkinson’s” or whatever crap they write. What newspapers and media sites do, is take a grain of truth from a study and turn it into some kind of statement of fact. But the information we start with is NOT a statement of medical or biological fact in the first place, it’s often just an observation…only the dumbass newspaper tries to make it a fact.
The limitations of studies
So for instance, let’s look at a made-up, but realistic, example scenario. Maybe a team of researchers in Canada, or Finland, or California, conduct an observational study, known as a cohort study, to track a large group of people over a fairly long period of time. It may be that they follow 17,450 people for 14 years. At the start of the study, the people recruited were aged 30 to 50 and did not have heart disease, or at least no diagnosed condition or symptoms, such as high blood pressure. The study follows these people’s lives for 14 years, asking them to complete an online survey 4 times per year for 14 years, tracking a couple of hundred questions every time, to understand their behaviour, such as how much they smoke, how much they drink, how many coffees per day they drink, how many times per week they eat fish, how many times per week they eat meat, how many times per week they exercise, and so on. At the end of the study, the researchers primary target is to see how many people developed heart disease or signs of heart disease, such as obesity and high blood pressure.
Once the study is finished, the researchers will have a mass of data about 17,450 people (maybe 20,000 or 25,000 started, but a bunch dropped out along the way) which shows rates of obesity, high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, and so on, at the start, and rates at the finish, including who developed heart disease or cancer along the way. They also have all this data on what those people ate and did in between times, so they can then look for trends in the data, like xx% of heavy smokers developed xx condition, or xyz% of people who took no weekly exercise, gained the greatest % of weight gain…and so on.
There are many strengths and weaknesses of these kinds of studies, which we won’t look into in detail here. The point is this; often such a study will generate a finding such as “People who drank 3 or 4 cups of coffee per day were at 17% less relative risk of developing coronary heart disease or suffering a myocardial infarction (a heart attack), than people who drank only 1 cup per day or less.”
This makes it to the average trash newspaper or media site as “Good news coffee lovers, drinking 4 cups per day prevents heart attacks!”
You see, the study only observed a correlation. The study didn’t take blood tests or tissue samples, it didn’t conduct autopsies on the people who dies of heart attacks during the 14 years, the study didn’t look at things under a microscope in lab conditions to determine whether or not the coffee or the caffeine had anything to do with the causes of the heart attacks, or the protective benefits of drinking coffee – the study didn’t even ask people whether they drink caffeinated or decaf, so they don’t even know if caffeine has anything to do with it! No, all the study did was observe a correlation between coffee drinking and heart disease. Maybe the coffee drinkers tend to do more exercise, and that’s what gives the protective benefits, or maybe the non-coffee drinkers tend to eat more cake, and that causes them to gain weight and raise their blood pressure. From this type of study, we just don’t know.
But the newspaper reports that drinking coffee stops heart attacks, and that’s the message that reaches the general public. The study only observed “17% less relative risk” – in other words, out of 17,450 people, maybe 8200 were non-coffee drinkers, and of that 8200, maybe 1.6% of the non-coffee drinkers suffered a heart attack. That’s 131 people. Of the other 9,250 people in the study, who (on average) drink 3.5 cups of coffee per day, only 1.328% of people suffered a heart attack, that’s only 123 people. RELATIVE to the non-coffee drinkers, the coffee drinkers suffered 17% fewer heart attacks, but in the grand scheme of things, we would hardly claim that drinking coffee protects you from a heart attack - it may, be it’s far from certain.
And the study does not link up direct cause and effect. There could be dozens of other factors at play – differences in people’s exercise habits, diet, environment, genetics, family traits and much more.
But the way our media works, most people want 300-word sound bites. You know, all the people who stopped reading this post back after the first 2 paragraphs, those people just want snippets of information – like ‘drink more coffee, you won’t have a heart attack’ and ‘drinking red wine is as beneficial as 30 minutes in the gym’ and so on.
I believe, in the future, we will look back on these times and marvel at the level of damaging misinformation that was spread to the general public.
All these dumb stories fail to grasp several key concepts that are essential understandings in all areas of health, fitness, medicine, disease and wellbeing. I believe that our government, educations system, and mainstream media, are crucially failing to educate the general public on these four factors, and this is fundamentally harmful to our overall understanding of health and disease prevention.
- One size does not fit all – people are all different, so there are few “do this, it’s good for you” or “don’t eat that, it’s bad for you” actual truths, because few things are good for everyone or bad for everyone.
- The dose makes the poison – just because a food or habit or activity is proven to be largely beneficial, does not mean that lots of that food or habit or activity is more beneficial. Whether we are talking about running, vitamins, broccoli or sleep, there are optimum levels of everything…and again, optimum for the individual; it’s not going to be the same for everyone.
- For most of the diseases and ill-health conditions that afflict us today, there is no simple single cause, it’s rarely a case of ‘this caused that. The end.’ It’s just not like that. In almost every case, the causes of our health problems – obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, COPD, cognitive decline, autoimmune conditions – are multifactorial, varied and complex. Many lifestyle, dietary and environmental factors affect each of us differently, and interact with our unique genes, body type, blood type, gut flora and individual age, environment, state of health and circumstances. What causes disease for one person, may not cause it in another. Every scenario is varied and complex.
- Just as 1 above says that people are all different, so the other factors are all different too. Food and exercise and lifestyle factors. I mean, there is meat and there is meat. Studies that look at red meat consumption and links to cancer or heart disease, NEVER distinguish between cheap factory-farmed, grain fed meat, and quality organic grass-fed meat. Yet there is a world of difference between these two types of red meat, they are ’15-yr old second hand Skoda versus brand new Aston Martin’ different, yet the studies never factor this in. There is exercise and there is exercise. Studies often look at elite athletes to measure how muscles work or how metabolism fuels exercise activities, yet the findings from such studies trickle down to the general public, most of whom certainly are not elite athletes. There is dairy and there is dairy. Milk from a worn out, stressed cow routinely fed antibiotics and a diet of grains, corn and soybeans and kept in a barn in cramped conditions, is going to be very different in nutritional composition to milk from a healthy, organic, happy, free range cow living a low stress life outside eating grass all day. There are smokers and there are smokers – 3 cigarettes a day or 3 packs a day? The dose makes the poison!
When we put all these factors together, we can see how pointless it is trying to give broad ‘one size fits all’ advice to people.
Let’s look very briefly at a couple of examples of what this looks like when it all comes together.
Let’s say it’s your 23rd birthday, and you buy a pack of cigarettes. You smoke that pack over the course of the day, then buy another pack the next day. You smoke a pack each day for a month, then you stop and you never smoke again for your entire life. Do you think that those 31 packs over one month will cause you to die of lung cancer at 57? I think 99% of people will answer that question with ‘No, probably not.’ See, a pack a day for a month is just 620 cigarettes. So most of us agree that you could probably smoke 620 cigarettes in one month and not get lung cancer. Or if you spread those 620 cigarettes out as one per month for 51 years, at just one cigarette per month it would likely never really do you any harm. That’s my belief.
However, if you had that first pack on your 23rd birthday, then a pack every day for a month, then carried on smoking a pack every day til you were 57, that’s a pack a day for 34 years, that means smoking 248,200 cigarettes, almost a quarter of a million, over 34 years. Now do we think that might give you lung cancer? I think a hefty majority of people might answer ‘Yes, very likely.’
So you see, the dose makes the poison. Most people would agree that 600 cigarettes in a lifetime won’t kill you, in fact it almost certainly won’t really do you any harm at all, unless you have some rare genetic issue that causes that one month of smoking to be disastrous for you (see, people are all different) but for most people, 600 cigarettes in a month, or over a lifetime, would not be harmful, whereas we all broadly agree that a quarter of a million cigarettes over 34 years, well that likely would do most people great harm – maybe lung cancer, maybe bronchitis, or some other respiratory tract ill health. Additionally, the quarter million cigarettes over 34 years is going to have a different effect on a sedentary person who does no cardiovascular exercise and is additionally overweight and eating a poor diet…compared to how those cigarettes will affect a person who maintains a healthy BMI and goes out running or cycling every day, trying hard to maintain good lung function despite his or her smoking habit. So, the dose makes the poison, and the poison will affect each individual differently depending on other environmental, lifestyle and dietary factors.
Sugar and type-2 diabetes
We read every day that we are eating too much sugar, and sugar is leading to diminished insulin sensitivity, metabolic syndrome and type-2 diabetes. If I eat a great healthy diet, the Mother Nature’s Diet way, moderate in fruits and high in vegetables (17-a-day, woohoo!) and high in nutritious oily fish, liver, free range eggs and nuts and seeds, then once per month I splurge on a sweet-fest of white chocolate cheesecake, eating a massive 1000-calorie stomach bursting slab of cake dripping in cream, is this ‘too much sugar’ and will it absolutely give me type-2 diabetes? All things being equal, if I don’t smoke, drink very little alcohol, and exercise every day, maintaining a healthy bodyweight at below 15% bodyfat, then there is absolutely no real danger in my monthly cheesecake splurge, that cheat, treat or whatever you want to call it, is actually unlikely to really do me any harm at all.
But if I am a person who has ‘those damned obesity genes’, I eat a ‘standard Western diet’ low in vegetables, low in oily fish and free range eggs, I rarely exercise, I drink 6 units of alcohol every night and I faceplant that cheesecake four times per week, what results might I expect then? Right, obesity and type-2 diabetes are a ticking time bomb just waiting to happen. See, the dose makes the poison, everyone is different, and numerous lifestyle, dietary and environmental factors have to be taken into consideration.
Bringing it all together
Now you see, we just looked at smoking and at sugar, and we see in both cases that all four points above are relevant – one size does not fit all, people are all different; the dose makes the poison; most ill health has multi-factorial causes, rarely does one single thing cause one single outcome, the same for everyone; and the ‘things’ are different too, the sugar in an apple is different to the sugar in a white chocolate cheesecake! I don’t know about you, but I never met anyone obese or diabetic who blamed it all on eating too many apples!
And this is using smoking and sugar as our examples. Smoking and eating too much refined sugar are widely accepted these days as two of the most notorious and universally known evils of our modern diet and lifestyle. If even these obvious examples are subject to such variable criteria, then you can see how less obvious cases are much more complicated. When we see headlines like ‘Eating walnuts causes foot fungus’ or ‘A banana per day will cure Parkinson’s’ or whatever nonsense some news site prints, we clearly can’t take such ‘news’ at face value. Behind the click-bait headlines there is a glimmer of scientific truth, but it’s likely only true when subjected to the four criteria discussed here.
Stay away from the click bait
Do yourself a favour, just stop reading that crap they print, stop buying into the trashy headlines, don’t be a victim of the click bait. Please know that rubbing cabbage leaves on your butt cheeks isn’t a cure for cellulite; understand that massaging coconut oil into the soles of your feet won’t cure cancer and believe that you can eat three eggs per day without growing a third arm out of the middle of your forehead. They just print all this rubbish to get you to visit their site.
I read somewhere that, according to a study, 99% of people who believe what they read in the papers, ended up 99% more confused than the people who don’t read papers at all. Researchers observed a strong correlation between that people who read The Daily Fail and people who give up on healthy eating because nothing seems to work and none of it makes any sense any more. I can’t tell you if that study was right, because it was on a site that made me click through 20 pages to get to the conclusion, but it had some pictures of someone with 6-pack abs, so I am pretty sure it must be scientific fact.
Go steady out there.