Friday, February 15, 2008

There are none so blind as those who will not see

An article in Yahoo News, Fast-food binge harms liver, but boosts good cholesterol: study, caught my attention yesterday. Within the article, which provided details from the findings of a neat little study in Sweden, was an intriguing quote from the lead researcher, Dr. Frederik Nystrom:

"That signs of liver damage were linked to carbohydrates was another key finding, he said.

"It was not the fat in the hamburgers, it was rather the sugar in the coke," he said."

The study?

A sort of duplication of Morgan Spurlock's Supersize Me - Fast food based hyper-alimentation can induce rapid and profound elevation of serum alanine aminotransferase in healthy subjects - in which subjects were to consume two meals a day from fast food restaurants and cease any daily exercise for a month.

Eat a-plenty they did! Where their baseline calorie intake was an average 2273-calories each day, during the study they consumed 5753-calories a day! Not only did they gain weight (as expected), they also experienced an increase in their waist circumference and BMI, their HOMA-IR (insulin resistance score) increased, and their liver panel indicated development of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) to boot!

The underlying culprit was simply calories, or even an increase in dietary fat - but the significant increase in both sugar and total carbohydrate in the diet.

Now take a look at what's being reported in the media, as picked up by Conditioning Research:

It is interesting to see how this has been reported elsewhere:

MedPage today says: Explain to interested patients that this small study suggested that overdoing it on high-fat foods, even during a short holiday period, for instance, and a failure to exercise can cause liver damage.

eh? the researchers said it was the sugar not the fat

NHS Choices says: The study does provide a further reason to avoid overeating (especially food high in saturated fat) if one is needed.

er...the researcher said that "The study showed that the increase in saturated fat correlated with the increase in healthy cholesterol"

Then there is the CBS article, "The study, published in the advance online edition of Gut, doesn't show which was more damaging - bingeing on fatty food or being sedentary."

ABC News, "The extra fat is the big enchilada here..."

My take? There are none so blind as those who will not see.

Additional Blog Takes:


  1. Anonymous9:53 AM

    The media has to put their own spin on these studies. If we checked further we would probably find a link to advertising dollars. Maybe the low fat conglomerates.
    Now a days you can't believe anything you see and hear on tv and it's getting so you can't believe anything you read in the popular media.

  2. Anonymous1:26 PM

    This is amazing. I wandered over to the ABC story, and they have a photo of a typical fast food meal.

    As I look at it, I see the soda (sugar), the bun (starch with added sugar), catsup (added sugar), onion (naturally occuring sugar - but a relatively small amount compared to the rest), fries (starch). Those are the carby items.

    Then we have the dastardly fatty items: the meat, cheese, and fries.

    So let's assume that's a quarter pounder with cheese (26g fat, 40 g carbs), a large fries (30g fat, 70 g carbs), and a large drink (0g fat, 86g carbs). That adds up to 504 fat calories, and 784 calories from carbs. So yes, blame the component that provided 1/3 less calories than the carbs.

    Never mind that the study clearly stated that the bad liver markers were brought on by the carbs, and that the fats actually helped the good blood markers.

    So of course, it makes perfect sense that every article out there would get it backwards and still blame the fat. *rolls eyes*

  3. You make a very good point about many media sources mis-interpreting the study. I read most of the article in "Gut."

    The article authors themselves stress in the summary/conclusions sections that total caloric intake was to blame, not mentioning specific macro-nutrients. To find the data on carb intake, you had to wade into the body of the report.

    I bet the media mis-interpretation has more to do with ignorance and laziness than with an advertising conspiracy. But we can't be sure.

    In any case, this was an extremely small study with only 18 subjects who were asked to be sedentary and double their usual caloric intake over 4 weeks. How often does that happen in the real world?

    -Steve Parker, M.D,