Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Low-Fat Spin Doctors Risk Whiplash

Okay, you've known that today was the day for release of the Women's Health Initiative Dietary Modification Trial findings. Not only was a press release issued last week, but I also included an entry here in my blog yesterday about it. In addition, members of the media were provided advance copies of the full-text manuscripts to be published in this week's JAMA.

Basically, the stage was set to ensure maximum coverage, while also allowing plenty of time to get the spin-cycle going. Once the media had access last week, the emails were heating up with questions, interpretations and insight into how this would play out.

In the minutes following the end of the "embargo" imposed on publishing the findings, the media quickly innundated the wire with more than 100 articles about this landmark study. In fact, it took just 15-minutes for the number of hits in Google to surpass 100 articles. Needless to say, I was impressed.

What I wasn't impressed by was the lock-step dedication to the message, that even with the "null findings" - oh, did I mention the studies concluded that a low-fat diet did not decrease risk of colon cancer, breast cancer or cardiovascular disease? - were quickly put forth for public consumption.

As ABC News made clear, "Health researchers are not giving up on the low-fat message, however, and say the new study has too many shortcomings to provide a clear answer on the health benefits of eating less fat."

Let me be clear here - many, many people have had access to this data since last week and have been crafting a message to you, the consumer, about what your "take home message" should be! The message is clear - continue to eat a low-fat diet even though this study should raise red flags and alarm bells that our dietary recommendations of the last thirty years are not optimizing health.

Expect more than a white-wash here - expect those who conducted the research to acknowledge a low-fat dietary approach is not protective as it is claimed, nor does it offer a reduction of risk for breast cancer, colon cancer or cardiovascular disease.

It is time that you, the consumer, expect accountability from those using your tax dollars for research to be honest about their findings, not only by admission of "null findings" but also have the courage to say "our theory was wrong, let's take a step back and take another look at the full body of evidence to understand our mistake and find the flaws in our theory."

The Director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), Elizabeth G. Nabel, is clear on message - "The results of this study do not change established recommendations on disease prevention. Women should continue to get regular mammograms and screenings for colorectal cancer, and work with their doctors to reduce their risks for heart disease including following a diet low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol."

If you want Dr. Nabel to know that you disagree with this position, email her at: nabele@nhlbi.nih.gov and let her know the NIH/NHBLI should be funding research of dietary approaches that show real promise, not just those that are "politically correct" and on message with the government guidelines.

1 comment:

  1. Dr. Nabel,

    As a practicing physician in Colorado, I read the recent study on a low fat diet for risk reduction of cancer and cardiovascular disease with interest. For many years I followed the recommendations of American Heart Association with incredible rigor. After reducing my fat intake to only negligible amounts and avoiding all saturated fats and cholesterol and exercising 4-5 hours a week, my weight ballooned by 40-50 pounds! My cholesterol sky rocketed to very high levels. After several years of this, I was desperate for answers. As a result, like many other Americans I became completely disillusioned with the AHA recommendations. I first tried the low glycemic approach espoused by Barry Sears. My weight dropped some. I then tried the drastic measures described by Dr. Atkins, my weight dropped further and my cholesterol values improved. I’m now moderating my diet with a blended low glycemic approach. I now view fat intake as a necessary part of my weight control program. I also view the low fat diet as the worst possible diet for my genetic phenotype, a prescription obesity and an early death due to type II diabetes.

    What I find a bit crazy about your recent recommendations is that the NHLBI is still recommending a low fat diet after your own research shows that this approach has no efficacy. It’s time to put this dogma to bed. There is now very little science supporting these recommendations and I suspect that most Americans have now “left the fold” of this religious belief that eating saturated fat has anything to do with being fat or cardiovascular risk.

    Chris Centeno, M.D.