Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Eating for health...

I have frankly been unconvinced by different campaigns to link a specific food to the battle against a specific disease. But there exists a popular impression that nature provides its own pharmaceuticals. We just need to match them up with our ailments.

Partly this is due to technology alienation. Modern drug chemistry - let alone medicine itself - is way past intuitive. Natural remedies seem understandable at least, which can actually change our rational thinking process, making them seem like the logical decision.

And once a dreaded disease is diagnosed, the "what harm could it do?" mindset often helps victims turn to natural remedies. As frequently is the case, the truth likely lies somewhere between folk medicine and high science. Unfortunately, when you make that statement the inference is drawn that the it lies halfway between. I think it rests very close to the "science end" myself.

Perversely enough the best way to prove natural remedies are effective is the same way we prove any other physical fact: the scientific method, with double-blind studies, for example. And those results have not been supportive of many food-based therapies.

For all of you men over 40, this good summary of what we know about food and prostate cancer might be helpful. One popular food supplement is the pomegranate.
Drinking an eight ounce glass of pomegranate juice daily increased by nearly four times the period during which PSA levels in men treated for prostate cancer remained stable, a three-year UCLA study has found. The study involved 50 men who had undergone surgery or radiation but quickly experienced increases in prostate-specific antigen or PSA, a biomarker that indicates the presence of cancer. UCLA researchers measured "doubling time," how long it takes for PSA levels to double, a signal that the cancer is progressing, said Dr. Allan Pantuck, an associate professor of urology, a Jonsson Cancer Center researcher and lead author of the study. [More]

Note the size of the studies in these examples. They are way too small to reliably base conclusions upon. Indeed, my largest complaint with the almost daily announcements is they imply a level of efficacy that is simply not there. Despite adroit wording the public is left with a strong belief that we can eat our way to cures.

Worse still for our industry, the reverse is also embraced: our ills are caused by what we eat (or fail to). This is the atmosphere in which our products are judged, and unless agriculture remains firmly committed to the scientific method - even when it shows us to be in the wrong - we could see our business plans rewritten by a handful of activists.

Our own choices as medical consumers have impact as well. Observable hypocrisy, such as applying insecticides and opposing power lines due to disproven health scares hardly is a reassuring example for food customers.

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