Saturday, March 05, 2011

Blog: "Where Do Gorillas get Their Protein?"

I stumbled across a great blog, Where Do Gorillas Get Their Protein? by Laurie Endicott Thomas. She writes well and makes very good points.

She describes herself:
"I am a technical editor who has worked on medical textbooks and journals and so on for more than 20 years. As a result, I know how to search the medical literature, and I understand what I read. ... I have waited all that time for the information in the nutrition books I edited early in my career to become common knowledge. My patience finally ran out, so I bought a gorilla mask and set up this Web site."
Her recent post discusses body weight and cholesterol levels:
Weight and Cholesterol: When Average Is Abnormal:
"In the late 1990s, the China-Cornell-Oxford Project found that the average total cholesterol level in rural Chinese people was 127 mg/dL. As a result, heart attacks were rare in China. Overall, American men were 17 times as likely as Chinese men to get a heart attack. American women were about 6 times as likely as Chinese women to get heart attacks."
Thomas credits the Chinese' low cholesterol and low incidence of heart attack to diet:
"Overall, the Chinese were eating only about a tenth as much animal protein and three times as much fiber as Americans were eating. The less animal protein people ate, the lower their cholesterol values were, and the less likely they were to die of heart disease and various cancers."
There's a lot of good reading on her blog. And it doesn't appear she has any commercial motive.
Photo from Thomas' blog. I couldn't resist.


Charles R. said...

No commercial motive, but she's drunk the China Study kool-aid. The stats used in that Study have been well debunked at this point.

Bix said...

The book, "The China Study" is not itself a study. It is a book, written by Campbell and his son, for the layperson that discusses several studies, some in which Campbell took part.

I've read the book, I've read some of Campbell's original studies, and I've read some back and forth on this matter. Unfortunately, the discussion has become so emotional it's difficult to see valid points amidst bias and ridicule.

The following, if you will, debunks the debunking:

"I'm an epidemiologist, and on top of that my research focuses on cancer (not that this makes me completely infallible, but at least I feel equipped to provide an informed critique of her statistical capability). Dr. Campbell was certainly gracious in his response to criticism, but I cannot be so kind. Denise is incredibly naive in her crude analysis of the raw data. She uses correlations and ecologic comparisons to draw conclusions about relationships between diet and outcome (cancer, cardiovascular disease, etc.). WRONG WRONG WRONG!!"

A comment this particular author placed on Denise's blog (Denise Minger wrote a critique of Campbell's book, The China Study):

"Your analysis is completely OVER-SIMPLIFIED. Every good epidemiologist/statistician will tell you that a correlation does NOT equal an association. By running a series of correlations, you’ve merely pointed out linear, non-directional, and unadjusted relationships between two factors. I suggest you pick up a basic biostatistics book, download a free copy of “R” (an open-source statistical software program), and learn how to analyze data properly. I’m a PhD cancer epidemiologist, and would be happy to help you do this properly. While I’m impressed by your crude, and – at best – preliminary analyses, it is quite irresponsible of you to draw conclusions based on these results alone. At the very least, you need to model the data using regression analyses so that you can account for multiple factors at one time."


This reminds me of the controversy over smoking and cancer. Philip Morris said that studies showing lung cancer linked to cigarette smoking are flawed. In fact, no one has proven that smoking causes lung cancer. People who wish to smoke are comforted by that fact.

One of Campbell's points is that consumption of animal foods increases the risk for certain cancers. All of the studies that support that idea are in some way imperfect. Because humans are imperfect. Because we can never have all of the data we need to conclude-without-doubt. Because we will never be able to interrogate the data we do have with absolute clarity. That is the nature of science. Still, Campbell may have a point.

Campbell's own response, which I find credible, is here:

caulfieldkid said...

This "experiment" (quotes because I'm sure it is riddled with holes) is the kind of thing that has stuck with me over time:

Some times I don't need to know the exact cause. If the correlation is consistent - go with it. Has there ever been a study that said eating too many whole/unprocessed fruits and vegetables is bad for one's health?

Also, what is there to lose? You are exhausting fewer resources (in general), which means there are more to go around for the less fortunate. You are exposed to fewer chemicals and hormones. You are reducing the profitability of inhumane animal husbandry. The list could go on.

Sometimes the scientific proof* doesn't need to be there in order for the common sense to be.


*That's not to say common sense can exist juxtaposed to legitimate scientific findings.