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Nutrition Past and Future

TPNS 42: The Confusionist Mind and the Good Old Days

Primitive Nutrition 42:
The Confusionist Mind and the Good Old Days


With this video I'll take a quick look at the personal beliefs of a couple cholesterol deniers and confusionists.  It seems it helps to have other fringe beliefs if you are to adopt fringe beliefs about cholesterol as well.

For a while, I took in the low carb media, including this podcast.  I saw that a cardiac surgeon, Donald Miller, was offering some sort of rebuttal to Dean Ornish.  My first thought was that he saw Ornish's diet as bad for his business, but the man's a doctor, of course.  He must be trying to give us his best advice, right?  Well I listened to this and never really heard a direct refutation of Ornish's highly successful work.  Instead, he offered a recitation of the usual bad science and flawed reasoning my videos are here to address.  Apparently, he found the folks at the Weston Price Foundation to be very convincing.

Here's his bio from a site for which he has written,  The host of the podcast, Jimmy Moore, became aware of him through that site, so they must have a few things in common.  Dr Miller's interests are wide-ranging.

He is a believer in low-carb.  Read this and you'll see he has taken Woody Allen's comedy a bit too seriously.  He seems to have used a scene in the movie Sleeper to help him imagine a future in which his low carb ideas are affirmed by science.  He needs to imagine this in the future because the present isn't being very cooperative for him.

Browse his writings and you'll see he clashes with other present-day realities as well.  He has some truly unbelievable ideas about AIDS and HIV.  Here is a medical doctor who doesn't want you to get tested for HIV.

He also has radical views on water fluoridation, flu shots and of course, climate change.

Here are some views he chose to share following the attacks of 9-11.  You’ll need to pause the video to read these because I will not read them.  The man has some very radical political views.  Cholesterol denialism and low carb seem quite innocent compared to this.  Jimmy Moore says nothing to indicate to his listeners that this man has other radical, conspiratorial views that might put his hostility to public health institutions in some appropriate context.

Donald Miller's online article about low carb includes a reference to this study.  According to him, the Framingham study showed us that lower cholesterol would increase your risk of death.  He neglected to mention that Framingham actually made clear that for people under 50 cholesterol levels were directly tied to overall and cardiovascular mortality.  This Framingham study also makes clear that for older people, falling cholesterol is a reflection of the J-curve, which you know all about at this point.

There is a separate issue of how to treat lipids in the elderly.  Let's leave those decisions to their doctors. 

This is another source explaining the complicated nature of cholesterol in the elderly.  Miller doesn't indicate he understands any of this.

Here's another study to help Dr Miller with this issue.

And here's one more.

In the interview he names Chris Masterjohn of the Weston Price Foundation as an expert on cholesterol.  Search his name on Google Scholar and it is not at all clear he is a cholesterol expert.

This is Chris Masterjohn.

He runs a website called Cholesterol and Health and of course, he is offering what he says is the truth.  This truth is coming from a someone who somehow got himself into serious health trouble when he was a vegetarian.

He suffered from anxiety, isolation and anger.  He was lethargic and apathetic.  Then he developed 15 cavities and needed two root canals.  For some reason he thought being vegetarian would make him immune to tooth decay.  He thought soy made cavities impossible.

Bear in mind, all these problems, including the emotional ones, we should unquestioningly accept were caused by being a vegetarian.

It should come as no surprise that Masterjohn has posted at as well.  He is not concealing his hostile view of the federal government here, and somehow that is driving his beliefs about cholesterol.  You can better assess the information you get from him now.

By the way, the US government and the governments of all advanced nations have an interest in cholesterol levels because unlike Masterjohn and the other confusionists, they foot the bill in large measure for the poor health of their citizens.

Here are a couple highlights from his site.  I've already shown you how dietary cholesterol doesn't affect blood cholesterol much if you already have high cholesterol, so this post is easily dismissed.

He argues elsewhere that cholesterol doesn't cause heart disease but calcification does.

I guess he doesn't know that cholesterol concentrations correlate with the degree of calcification.

Here's another study for that.

Maybe this is why both calcification and cholesterol seem to raise the risk of dementia.

A common refrain among these retrograde voices on diet and health is that no one had our chronic illnesses long ago.

Dr Miller, for example, asserts in that podcast that 100 years ago coronary heart disease wasn't even a recognized entity, in his words.  Ignoring for a moment the accuracy of that statement, it wouldn't mean a lot if it were true.  Before 1628 and William Harvey's Anatomical Exercise on the Motion of the Heart, even the basic functions of the cardiovascular system were not understood.

Before modern medicine, the four humors were thought to determine sickness and health, so we wouldn't expect to see any disease accurately described in old texts.  In the field of cardiology, the first effort at a real clinical description of dysfunction came from William Heberden in 1768, when angina became a recognized entity, to borrow a phrase.

Angina is a symptom of coronary heart disease.   Therefore, coronary heart disease existed at least as far back as 243 years ago.

191 years ago some physicians were first connecting angina to coronary artery disease.

But let's back up a bit.  Just because a disease was not recognized does not mean it did not exist.  The oldest example of atheosclerosis we have comes from the 5000 year old Tyrolean ice man mummy.

The Ice Man ate fatty meats.  In addition to atherosclerosis, he had gallstones, which is another indicator that he probably had high cholesterol.

Atherosclerosis was present in Egyptian mummies as well.  These mummies are the preserved bodies of members of the upper class, who consumed meaty, high fat diets.

John McDougall has written well about heart disease in these mummies if you'd like to learn more.

It is clear that when Dr Miller asserts that coronary artery disease was not a recognized entity 100 years ago he is mistaken.  But let's give him the benefit of the doubt and look for another interpretation of his statement.  Maybe he meant that 100 years ago in the United States there was no heart disease or perhaps it was just rare.

That wouldn't be true, either.  Here you can see that 100 years ago cardiovascular disease was called the determining factor in a majority of deaths, and it was trending upward.  While progress was being made with infectious diseases, cardiovascular disease was on the rise.

In 1905, 18 people out of 10,000 were dying of heart disease in Massachusetts. 

That is more than in 2007.  Therefore, Miller is wrong under that interpretation as well.

We shouldn't assume they didn't have cancer in the good old days, either.  Today people live longer and methods of diagnosis are better, so of course we will see more cancer.  There is no way to tell just how much cancer existed in ancient times.

There is some evidence of ancient cancers, however.  This 2700 year old king provides us with the oldest known case of prostate cancer. 

It is entirely possible there is more cancer today, if only because we are fatter and more sedentary, two major risk factors for several cancers.

It's really easy to say things were better in the good old days but it's a bit harder to tell if that is true.  If you have a confusionist agenda, though, the temptation to make a questionable appeal like this must be irresistible   Without further inquiry one might have been impressed to hear a cardiac surgeon argue in favor of low carb diets.  But if we keep asking questions, it turns out he is just confused.  Let the case of Donald Miller MD serve as a warning.  Just because someone has good credentials in one field doesn't mean he has the slightest clue about anything else. 

One of the most common tactics among cholesterol confusionists and low carbers is to latch onto biomarkers other than cholesterol to make low carb seem healthy.  In the next video, I'll show you why their biomarkers aren't necessarily worth as much as the best known of biomarkers, LDL bad cholesterol.

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