Sunday, March 30, 2008

Does fat-phobic orthodoxy damage the public health?

The three issues that concern me most are the quality of the food supply, the quality of nutrition instruction and the current polarization of opinion regarding what constitutes proper nutrition.

Regarding the food supply, it's unfortunate that government agencies, charged with protecting and improving the public health, have consistently caved in to pressure from corporate interests. The consequence is Dietary Guidelines that seem to be doing just the opposite of what was intended. Of particular concern to me is the fat-phobic orthodoxy that permeates every government (health) agency and every school of public health in the land.

I monitored the situation for fifteen years without attempting to do anything about it because I fully expected sound science to prevail. More recently I have been doing what I can to encourage others to inform themselves about biochemical individuality, fat metabolism, and carbohydrate sensitivity.

The biochemical knowledge required to determine the adequacy and appropriateness of individualized diets may be maturing with the emergence of genomics, protenomics, and metabolomics. Meanwhile, it's important that the mainstream health establishment stop demonizing saturated fat and focus on sugars and omega-6 vegetable oils as the actual culprits causing the current epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and cancers in younger and younger age groups.

The remainder of this post is a letter recently published in The Daily Inter Lake here in Kalispell.

Dear Editor:

In late February I learned that the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) has a strategy for improving the health of Montanans. It's called the 2006-2010 Montana Nutrition and Physical Activity State Plan to Prevent Obesity and Other Chronic Diseases. The Plan was formulated by a 77 member Cardiovascular Disease/ Obesity Prevention Task Force and became public policy in June 2006.

Many aspects of the Plan are indeed helpful. Unfortunately, the major dietary advice for weight control is reduced fat intake. In addition, the cornerstone of heart disease prevention involves severely limiting saturated fat consumption. Neither recommendation has sound science behind it.

What these ideas do have behind them is the backing of vegetarian activists, food manufacturers, the edible oils industry, and sugar producers. For decades these corporate interests have controlled advertising, funded research, and exerted influence on government agencies that supply educational materials (Dietary Guidelines) to state and county health departments. Fortunately, there's growing suspicion that current fat-phobic orthodoxy may actually be damaging the public health. For example, on January 21, 2008 researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine released a statement that generated a number of articles headlined "Do national dietary guidelines do more harm than good?" A press release reads, "Mid-way to the drafting of the 2010 guidelines, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University raise questions about the benefits of federal dietary guidelines, and urge that guideline writers be guided by explicit standards of evidence to ensure the public good."

This is exactly what has not been done where dietary fat is concerned. Further along in the article one reads, "Dr. Marantz and colleagues argue that if guidelines can alter behavior, such alteration could have positive or negative effects. They cite how, in 2000, the Dietary Guideline Advisory Committee suggested that the recommendation to lower fat, advised in the 1995 guidelines, had perhaps been ill-advised and might actually have some potential harm. The committee noted concern that the previous priority given to a low-fat intake may lead people to believe that, as long as fat intake is low, the diet will be entirely healthful. This belief could engender an overconsumption of total calories in the form of carbohydrates, resulting in the adverse metabolic consequences of high-carbohydrate diets, the committee wrote, while also noting that an increasing prevalence of obesity in the United States has corresponded roughly with an absolute increase in carbohydrate consumption.

Another indication that the focus is shifting from fat to carbohydrate is this observation in a February 6 article by Dr. J. Rand Baggesen entitled "The latest news about cholesterol medicine." His concluding remark: "There is no substitute for an active physical lifestyle in combination with a diet that avoids high levels of simple carbohydrates when it comes to health. In 2008, we do not have a medicine as powerful as these simple measures when it comes to avoidance of heart disease and stroke.

Other researchers are finding that lower cholesterol levels may have a serious downside not previously noticed because of the prejudice against high cholesterol. For example,
in a January 9, 2008 press release "Researchers at Texas A&M University have discovered that lower cholesterol levels can actually reduce muscle gain with exercising." Lead investigator Steven Riechman reported that subjects who were taking cholesterol-lowering drugs while participating in the study showed lower muscle gain totals than those who were not. “Needless to say," he said, "these findings caught us totally off guard.”

While the prejudice against saturated fat and cholesterol runs deep, it's possible that obesity experts will soon begin telling carb-sensitive individuals to consume more butter, eggs, coconut oil, and red meat to reduce insulin levels to allow stored fat to be burned so that weight loss can occur.

In conjunction with the 2008 Western Regional Obesity Course sponsored by the American Society of Bariatric Physicians, the Nutrition and Metabolism Society held a Symposium in Phoenix on April 12-13. The event featured, among others, Gary Taubes, Jeff S. Volek, Stephen D. Phinney, and J. Bruce German. The topic was "Saturated Fat and Heart Disease: What's the Evidence?"

The evidence, of course, is the research that the mainstream nutrition establishment has been ignoring for more than 30 years and will probably continue to ignore for a while yet. That evidence indicates that excessive fructose consumption, not saturated fat, is largely to blame for the continued high incidence of heart disease and the recent increase in the incidence of diabetes and obesity.

David Brown
1925 Belmar Dr
Kalispell, MT 59901