Monday, December 31, 2007

Best of 2007

I conclude this year with an overview of what I have found to be the most interesting or intriguing facts and opinions about really good news, body weight and obesity, the drawback of weight concerns, passive smoking, lies, damned lies, and statistics, and much more.

My first post, back in April, was about a study failing to report an effect of garlic on cholesterol. Today I would comment a bit differently on it, but the fact that I have started with a skeptic issue is quite illustrative of how this blog has developed from beginning to now.

Enjoy your life, enjoy your food

egg Isn't it a bit strange that mainstream health news are full of stories about the "big killers" while a new report tells us that Americans never have been as healthy as today? We know why. Bad news is good news for the media, that's why every finding that "food X promotes cancer" is multiplied over and over but we never hear the good news such as "food Y does not promote cancer". I think it is high time to steer in the opposite direction. I have come across some research news recently that may counter false worries about food: Enjoy your sunny side up egg, leg of lamb fat or sweet cookies because it will not harm your heart. White sugar, even for diabetics, is no taboo at all (but of course they should monitor their blood sugar levels). Fear of excess body weight is the source of most food concerns, but it seems that you should not worry adding pounds when getting elderly. This brings me to another big issue on Med Journal Watch.

Body weight and obesity

body weight When I started my blog, I was convinced that overweight and obesity is bad for health and that any skepticism on this issue is denialism paid by the fast food industry. Today, after having looked at a lot of facts, I doubt

  1. that a body mass index of more than 25 is bad for all people regardless of gender, age and health status,
  2. that body fat is an important cause of disease,
  3. and that weight loss promotes health and can be achieved by most people in the long run.
August 2nd, 2007 was the day when I changed my mind. Two months earlier I already had come across a surprising outcome of a study showing that obese fit men live longer than those of normal weight. I admit that I did nor really trust this study, but it caused me to look for odd findings about obesity and health. And this is what I have found: Slim heart patients die faster, body mass helps elderly asthmatics to survive, and puzzling contradictory news about body fat and breast cancer. See also my interview with Linda Bacon on weight and health.

The drawback of weight concerns

weight concerns While the health benefit of weight loss remains to be proven and the advice of weight loss advocates is sometimes absurd, there are many unhealthy side effects of weight concerns: Fear of fat makes kids sick, weight concerns may be bad for your fitness, distressed victims of the war on obesity, yet pregnant women have been the target of weight loss hysteria, dieting messages have adverse effects, and weight control has been linked to youth suicide.

Passive smoking

passive smoking When looking at passive smoking with the same critical view as in the obesity issue, can I still uphold my view that secondhand smoke makes people sick and kills them? In order to check this I did some math which supported my view. A second point is the fact that the victim of secondhand smoke is being harmed against his or her own will which must be weighted stronger than bad consequences of own behaviour. And, finally, I performed a direct comparison of evidence for the risk factors body fat and passive smoking, using the theme of a boxing match.

I have started reporting passive smoking study results as early as in April, for instance about impotence and bladder cancer, parental smoking, and a post series about the dangers of secondhand smoke: part one, two, three.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

daphnia The art of lying with statistics is using correct numbers but shifting their weight until we get a picture that is completely different from what the original numbers have shown. You also may call it the strategy of selling molehills as mountains. I often have come across this strategy during my research. Another source of false claims is publication bias, also called cherry-picking of results. And when scientists and reporters jump from results to conclusions, yet another source of error lures behind: the so-called post hoc fallacy, the wrong belief that the first event is the cause of a second event if they always follow each other. For instance in a Danish study on the cost of obesity. Correlation may or may not imply a cause. I have discussed this important issue, regarding storks and babies, fat, smoke, and cancer cells.

Reserves against loss of body and mind

old fit Given that most people lose weight before they die, a weight benefit in old age is no surprise. We all must die, but a body mass reserve seems to delay the final slimming down. When it comes to mental fitness, a similar mechanism is at work: cognitive reserve. For instance, an intellectually demanding job is a life insurance for brain cells. But body and mind always go together. Therefore you may even jog your brain fit and prevent frailty to stay mentally fit.

Heart issues

heart One of my evergreens with a daily readership is this piece about the fact that chest pain is not a safe sign of heart attack in women. Another difference between male and female hearts is the meaning of heart rate. Test yourself: Do you know the warning signs and risk factors of a heart attack? Alcohol has been told to be good for the heart but this is not true if you smoke. And for heart patients, red wine may work as well as statin, but with more pleasure. And keep listening to your partner, for heart's sake. This brings us to the next subject.

Sex, love, partnership

sex and love Do you know why men report more sex partners than women? Do you know that first sex not only very early but also very late may cause sexual problems? Did you know that love is in the genes when it comes to style? Or shall I tell you something about sleep sex that goes far beyond wet dreams?

Useless remedies, quackery, and placebo effect

placebo pill I have reported study findings about useless vitamin supplements, valerian drops, selenium, and Bach flowers. Read more about the placebo effect in my three-part series, beginning with the statement that the term itself is misleading and that there is no such effect in the strict sense, the second one is a pragmatic view, asking how to make best use of it, and finally I come to the conclusion that if such an effect exists it must be the power of mind.

Religion and altie medicine

pigeon Both share some common features, for instance operating with beliefs outside of scientific reasoning. I have looked for mechanisms that may help to explain the evolution of such beliefs and the fact that they have survived against all evidence of disproving facts. One such mechanism may be random reward, and a mechanism by which rats survive poison. In the case of religion, I have dealt with the raw material in human behaviour from which religion may have evolved. Do you believe in God? If you do, you must do so against logic reasoning because proofs of God do not work.

Hosted blog carnivals

Last but not least, I have hosted four blog carnivals in the past year:
Photo credits:
Wellcome Library

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