Ann Fernholm, Debate

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Unreliable Dietary Guidelines For Babies Have Done More Harm Than Good

Since the 1980s, the recommendations for when to introduce gluten to children have changed four times – and scientists still disagree on how to prevent gluten intolerance among small children. The unreliable dietary advice for babies appear to be the result of scientific carelessness. Scientists have neglected to test the hypothesis using well-conducted and controlled studies.

The Swedish newspaper SvD recently published a number of articles about dietary guidelines, written by medical journalist Gunilla Eldh and myself. Last Friday, they printed our articles about dietary guidelines for small children. The first one was about Celiac disease, and the advice to introduce gluten to babies before six months. For some children, if worst comes to worst, this may actually have triggered the development of Celiac disease. The second article was about the advice to delay the introduction of allergenic foods to children at high risk of allergy. Current advice is moving away from delaying the introduction of potential allergens, but it is still possible that previous advice contributed to the development of allergies in children.

All dietary guidelines must be scientifically valid

In one of the first articles published by Swedish Svd, some scientists claimed it is difficult to assess the effects of dietary advice using so called randomized controlled trials (RCTs), the form of study that evaluate results and side-effects. According to many scientists, the participants don’t follow the advice they are given, they quit, also, randomized controlled trials are expensive to conduct. This is how they justify the fact that so many dietary guidelines lack scientific credibility.

When it comes to dietary advice for small children, none of these excuses will work. Already back in the 1990s, when these guidelines were introduced, it would have been fairly easy to test the hypothesis that early exposure to gluten may help babies avoid Celiac disease. Scientists could have divided a couple of hundred babies into two groups, and introduced only one of them to gluten. Instead, we had to wait almost 20 years before some other scientists proved the guidelines wrong. If worst comes to worst, the advice to introduce gluten to babies before six months may have triggered the development of Celiac disease.

The same goes for food allergies. In the beginning of the 1990s, specialists issued warnings about allergenic foods, saying that parents should delay the introduction of allergenic foods to children at high risk of allergy. Today – 20 years later – well-conducted scientific studies show that

early introduction to allergenic foods like peanuts, fish and egg, might actually be key to preventing kids’ allergies. Previous advice has probably contributed to the development of allergies in children.

Scientific carelessness can lead to mistakes

Unfortunately, the Swedish National Food Administration won’t learn from mistakes. Once again, we have new recommendations on gluten introduction to prevent Celiac disease. According to the new guidelines, parents should introduce gluten slowly and step-by-step. However, once again, they fail to inform us about the scientific evidence for this advice.

Yet another example of scientific carelessness. Scientists claim they know what they are talking about, even when they have no clue.

In our bodies, there’s a machinery of molecules, developed by millions of years of evolution. Step-by-step, we begin to grasp how this enormous machine works, but there is still so much more to learn. I think it’s time to be a bit more humble and admit that we don’t know everything. Nevertheless, we have invented an incredibly powerful instrument to help us learn more about the world around us: the scientific method. When scientists follow the rules of the scientific method they tend to discover extraordinary things; when they fail to follow the rules, they make mistakes.

When it comes to dietary guidelines for babies, it’s incredibly important that the scientists do their job. Both Celiac disease and food allergy will affect the wellbeing of the child. No one should suffer because of someone else’s carelessness.

Science journalist and writer Ann Fernholm runs the blog annfernholm.se. Now and then, she writes here at Food Pharmacy.

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Ann Fernholm, Debate

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The sugar industry stopped research showing that sugar can cause cardiovascular disease

Just like the tobacco industry, the sugar industry has influenced the research around it. In 1971, they halted a study that showed how sugar negatively affects intestinal flora and upsets blood-fat levels in lab rats. For half a century, the sugar industry has managed to prevent this important knowledge from being publicized.

In 1965, researchers at Harvard were paid by the Sugar Research Foundation, an American organization sponsored by the sugar industry, to write an article claiming that sugar is harmless for the heart. This cover-up was finally revealed just last year by Cristin Kearns, researcher at UCSF in San Francisco..

Now, Cristin Kearns has been digging deeper into the archives, and has discovered that the Sugar Research Foundation, in the years of 1967-1971, funded animal-tested research at Birmingham University, in which scientists investigated whether or not sugar affects the risks of developing cardiovascular disease. The study in fact showed that sugar upsets blood-fat levels, and that intestinal flora are involved in the process: Sugar industry sponsorship of germ-free rodent studies linking sucrose to hyperlipidemia and cancer: An historical analysis of internal documents. In addition, sugar-levels were increased by a protein that is associated with bladder cancer.

These negative results caused the sugar industry to hurriedly withdraw their money from the research project.

The sugar industry therefore, has done exactly what the tobacco industry did. They have directly impeded any research that could affect their sales.

It’s making me so upset just thinking about it, and there are things I want to write that I probably shouldn’t, so let’s just move on.

Sugar, intestinal flora and blood fats

The interesting thing, which the unfinished study shows, is the connection between sugar, a compromised intestinal flora, and an unhealthy level of blood-fat. In my book My Sweet HeartI talk about how fat increases in the liver whenever we eat a large amount of the sugar known as fructose (found in white sugar). The build-up of fat in the liver upsets blood-fat levels, and may in the end cause fatty-liver. In one chapter of the book, you can read the following (for those who haven’t read my books, metabolic syndrome is the disrupted metabolism that people with abdominal obesity and type 2 diabetes experience):

Bowel incontinence and bacterial toxicity seems to contribute to a fatty liver.

As you’ve probably read before, people with metabolic syndrome are more likely to have a depleted intestinal flora, with a high number of inflammatory bacteria. This condition is also associated with a bowel incontinence. The bacteria have special molecules, called endotoxins (shorthand for internal toxins), located in a membrane that surrounds the bacteria. The levels of these toxins found in the blood are increased in those suffering from metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Some researchers believe that this is a contributing factor to the fatty-liver condition that I describe in chapter 3. For instance, if mice are fed with fructose, they soon develop bowel-incontinence, more bacterial infections in the blood, and, in the long run, fatty-liver. But if the mice are given antibiotics at the same time, it seems to protect them from fatty liver. Antibiotics can cause unbalance among healthy intestinal flora, but at the same time, it is also true that antibiotics help get rid of unhealthy bacteria. In the case of the mice, the antibiotic counteracted the poison-producing bacteria. The experiment suggests that an upset intestinal flora may accelerate the development of fatty liver and metabolic syndrome.

With that said, it should be known that the research I refer to was published in 2008 and 2009. But the sugar industry knew about the link between sugar, intestinal flora and upset blood fats already, in the early 1970s.

Further animal experiments in May this year showed that fructose causes leaky intestines in mice. In September, researchers also published a new article about fructose, intestinal flora and the risk of fatty liver.

It’s tempting to think that this is all exciting new knowledge, but the truth is that the sugar industry knew about it 50 years ago. For half a century, they’ve managed to prevent this knowledge from spreading, and as a result are complicit in decades of disease and needless suffering. Is there anyone else out there who finds all of this a little depressing?

Science journalist and writer Ann Fernholm runs the blog annfernholm.se. Now and then, she writes here at Food Pharmacy.

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Ann Fernholm

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The Dietary Science Foundation’s new goal: to evaluate what kind of diet is most effective in counteracting obesity and type 2 diabetes

Thank you, thank you, thank you! That’s what I would like to say to all the wonderful people who support the Dietary Science Foundation. Your consistent support has allowed us to move on to our next goal: to evaluate what kind of diet is most effective in counteracting obesity and type 2 diabetes. All Christmas donations we receive this year will go towards this research.

Before we start talking about the Dietary Science Foundation’s new venture, I would like to mention that the Stockholm County Council (SCC), through the so-called “ALF funds,” has decided to donate 600,000 SEK ($72.000) towards studying the effects of various types of diets on Type 1 diabetes. Fantastic! After a 600 000 SEK donation from the DSF, the study has now altogether received a total of 3.4 million SEK (4 million dollars), with help from other financiers (Skandia and SLL). This makes it the biggest study ever conducted in terms of researching how diet can be used to lower and stabilize blood sugar in type 1 diabetes!

Studies that can save lives

To be honest, it feels unreal that the Dietary Science Foundation has now made its second major project happen. This was exactly what I dreamt about when we started the foundation: independent high quality studies that could lead to change. When I write “thank you, thank you, thank you”, I really mean it. From the heart.

Expensive with inefficient dietary advice

Currently, we are setting up some new goals for the fund, such as: financing studies on how healthy diets can be used to treat both obesity and type 2 diabetes. For a long time, people with type 2 diabetes have received this kind of dietary advice:

This picture is taken from Bra mat for alla – mat vid diabetes och hjärt- kärlsjukdom (good food for all – food for people with diabetes and cardiovascular disease), a brochure that has been used extensively within Swedish care. If you get out the magnifying glasses you can observe that they recommend bread with each meal. Their lunch recommendation, a root-vegetable soup, is so low in calories that it requires supplemental pancakes for dessert.

So much points to the fact that this type of dietary advice is ineffective, and causes blood sugar levels to rise to unhealthy levels. In recent years, the health care industry has begun to advocate for slower carbohydrates, but many still struggle with blood sugar that fluctuates like a roller coaster. The Dietary Science Foundation therefore wants this dietary advice to be subjected to proper scientific review.

Like winning the lottery

And guess what? Better research in this area would be like winning the lottery for all of us. Not only are obesity and type 2 diabetes causing pain and needless suffering, but also they are our most expensive diseases to treat. They increase the risk of, for example: cardiovascular disease, cancer, dementia, osteoarthritis, fatty liver, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and complicated pregnancies.

All this sickness contributes to our current situation, in which the county council is struggling, and long waiting times are common. We simply can’t afford to go on like this.

You can be part of the effort by supporting the Dietary Science Foundation’s investment! As a monthly donor, you’ll be helping us work long-term. Also, ask for a donation to us on your Christmas wish-list (preferably at the top). Or just pick up the phone and Swish any amount to 123 900 42 43.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone. From the heart.

Science journalist and writer Ann Fernholm runs the blog annfernholm.se. Now and then, she writes here at Food Pharmacy.

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