As many of us continue to awaken to a new model of health and healing, it is wonderful to see more and more people taking accountability for their own health.
More people today are reading their labels, researching their ingredients and learning about key nutrients. More of us are thus much more open to hearing what various experts have to say about health and nutrition out there as well.
But do you know where these so called experts get their information from? Where do doctors or news media get theirs?
In most cases, the answer is scientific studies. No matter what story, the root of most health information is some scientific study. Much of the population have come to hold a high regard for scientific studies with trust and faith that what is discovered or concluded is the absolute truth.
However, nothing could be further from the truth. So many scientific studies are biased depending on how they are run, interpreted or funded. This is what dictates the outcome of so many. And the only reason so many get away with it, is because they are banking on the average person in the population never reading them, understanding them or interpreting them.
Naturally, you may be thinking “great, so is there no one to trust?” But things actually don’t have to be so grim. We just have to learn more about how this system works, use more of our critical thinking skills and be open minded enough to allow some common sense to shine through as well.
To help us do that, I have clinical nutrition expert, Alexander Rinehart DC., MSACN of CoActive Health to understand this topic more fully.
EVITA: Studying clinical nutrition Alex, you come across many scientific studies that are run in the areas of health and nutrition. We know this is an important area for many reasons. While we can pull out of them a lot of valuable information, most people regard these as very reliable and almost assign to them, “an absolute truth” kind of approach.
What would you say is the most important thing people in the general public need to know about how scientific studies are run?
ALEX: It’s an important area because a great portion of research can be funded by corporations looking to protect their interests. For instance, I just came across a study that compared consumption of a certain oil against another oil containing trans fat. The study was run ethically and the statistics were performed correctly. Not surprisingly, it found that the new oil without trans fats was healthier. Anything wrong with this picture?
It’s common sense to me that you could put just about any oil against a trans fat oil and your likely to see a better outcome in the subjects receiving that oil. So I questioned the value of the research question in the first place. What I looked to next was authors and the disclosures of their industry affiliations. What I found was the lead author was a consultant with an industry board that produced that specific oil! Automatically I forget I even came across the article and start reviewing a new abstract…
I find this sort of thing all of the time in the research I review monthly. Where consumers need to worry is where I could easily see a study like that turning into a new health claim that “_ oil is proven to be healthier than other oils_“. Technically the statement is true according to good quality research, but in my opinion it has accomplished nothing other than telling you a story that an industry wants you to hear.
Just this past fall Kellogg’s was forced to pull it’s Immunity claim off of its Cocoa Krispies cereal after public outcry. The truth of the food industry is that companies will meet label restrictions as minimally as possible and will make as many health claims as they are legally allowed.
I have made a habit of searching Google for a journal author’s name followed by “disclosures” to see what papers they have written, companies they have consulted for, and organizations they have been involved in before giving any credence to their paper’s claims. I encourage your readers to do the same. What you will learn is astonishing.
EVITA: That is fascinating to hear, and also something that I have come across myself while researching how studies are run. I can tell you, I remember how dismayed I was when I first found out how many problems there really are in the scientific community when it comes to studies and how they are run.
I know in your line of work you have looked at many, many studies and have found some to be known as part of the “forgotten literature**”. Can you tell us what this is and give us some examples of these in terms of how they impact our knowledge of health and wellness today?**
ALEX: Well there is no arguing if you eat well, move well, and think well, you are much more likely to experience more positive health outcomes than those who make poor food choices, live sedentary lives, and have negative attitudes. I could point to thousands of articles that describe the benefits of eating well, moving well and thinking well on social, economic and biochemical levels.
I don’t understand why people have to wait 20-30 years for a double-blind randomized clinical trial and a government guideline to decide that they’re going to go take a walk everyday and set aside 10 minutes to meditate.
The research is out there, it’s just not as exciting as a new pill or medical technology, and it’s not as profitable. You can’t put a patent on a walking trail, and you cannot pay someone to meditate for you. You can, however, pay for someone to be your guide, filter through the information for you, and give you personalized tips.
It’s amazing how research on the benefits of “alternative” therapies are displayed as “cutting edge” when to me they are common sense. We are a society that has designed itself around the question of “how do we treat disease” instead of asking “what does it take to promote health?“.
Prevention is so much more than vaccinations and early detection, but this is how the current health system has been defined. In fact the whole health insurance system itself was designed to figure out a way to keep people coming to the hospitals more routinely and this was successful for the threats of that time. Unfortunately, this has been warped into the managed care system we have today.
The answers you receive through research are only as good as the questions that are asked, the questions we have been asking were very pertinent to a 19th and 20th century environment, but it’s time to move towards more dynamic thinking that defines 21st century health needs. We are hanging on to a way of thinking that does not work for the problems of chronic disease and aging facing us today.
When it comes to my own healthcare, I have a health savings account which calls for a small monthly premium and a tax-free savings account for my medical expenses. Effectively I’m self-insured. My true healthcare bill is the premium I pay at the grocery store, my gym membership and the time I take out of my day for self-reflection and meditation. You don’t expect your car insurance to pay for oil changes and basic car maintenance, the same should go for your body. Unfortunately we take care of our cars more than we take care of our bodies!
I think some other problems occur in that we are addicted to technology and aren’t really looking at the social utility or dispersement of that technology. Our best minds are focused on making new technologies or making existing technologies more profitable, not necessarily on making the existing technology work in the real-world social and economic environments.
Change is not going to be easy for the American system and people need to recognize that sometimes a system that is unsustainable needs to get worse until it has the capacity built-in to do better. Political terms are only so long, so if a politician wants to be re-elected, or a CEO wants to please shareholders, the focus is disproportionately on short-term saves.
EVITA: Wow, I just love your down to Earth and no-nonsense kind of approach. I think you make things very simple for people to put aside all the “junk” and really see things for what they are.
Now, aside from our food of course, the main area of scientific studies is for pharmaceutical drugs. How do you personally feel about all the drugs that are being pushed on the public today?
ALEX: I think there is a time and a place for all therapy options including drugs and surgery. I think that people have taken medicine for granted. We have a drug for every symptom. If you have a stuffy nose, a cough, a headache, or indigestion, there is a drug for it.
My girlfriend recently had an itchy rash appear on her leg. She went to the dermatologist and he diagnosed it as allergic dermatitis. She was allergic to something and her body was reacting. Common sense would tell you to identify the allergen, remove the allergen, and see if the rash disappears. This is basic science.
Her dermatologist made no mention of nutrition, or even addressed the possibility of other allergens. Instead he recommended a steroid cream, told her there was absolutely no risks with it and if it didn’t work he could try a different cream. This is medical practice that would stand up in court and it’s because the only outcome being considered is the reduction of the rash. The socio-economic consequences are not considered. Case management is being controlled more by MBA’s running the hospitals and insurance companies, not the doctors.
Needless to say, she chose not fill her prescription. I evaluated her and put her on an elimination diet and upon reintroduction of foods, she found her rash was being caused by eggs. Removed the eggs and the rash has been gone since. We have the tools, what we lack is appropriate management of those tools – all complicated by industry politics.
Now, could the steroid cream have been used in conjunction with the diet to give her short-term relief from the itching? Absolutely. Could it have side effects? Yes! Could the side effects have been weighed against the benefits? Sure…
There is a buzzword out there called evidence-based medicine, but we should really call it _reimbursement-_based medicine. Every step from the research stage to the consultation stage is wrought with conflicts of interest. Unfortunately, under the current system, my girlfriend could not take her insurance to see a professional like myself. The approach I take is not as cut and dry as a medication for every symptom as much as I wish it could be, but the reductionist approach is what’s being rewarded.
Nutrition and holistic healthcare can be a bit of trial and error. One could just as easy show that a steroid cream has the same measurable effectiveness of a reduced rash, as a dietary intervention but what’s more likely to be reimbursed, the cream or a consultation with me? What approach is likely to be more expensive in the long run? Just because I’m a holistic practitioner does not make my approach any less evidence-based or less cost-effective.
There are thousands, if not millions, of people on medications and creams for a good portion of their life because they were never counseled on the possible root causes of their disorder. It makes them dependent on routine monitoring and at increased risk for progression to more serious disorders. When the check engine light comes on in the car, we’d rather disconnect the wire to the light than check the engine. It is my opinion that this practice has been bankrupting my country and we’re finally paying for it.
EVITA: Again Alex, not only does your expertise shine through here, but your passion for this field as well. And boy can I ever relate to that passion!
I just cannot imagine going about my health, the food I eat, or how I take care of myself the way society tries to conform us to. My rewards for this are great and I hope to inspire others to do the same. This is where my personal health and what I teach others has turned to – finding root causes, not masking problems with temporary and sometimes more harmful “bandages” and focusing on high quality prevention.
To all of our readers, I hope you found our 3rd part enlightening and helpful. Please feel free to share below any questions or concerns you may be having where these topics are concerned. And please join us for part 4 with Alexander Rinehart, where he will be discussing more specifically some of the drugs that are commonly prescribed and their true side-effects, like cholesterol medication and birth control pills.
In the meantime, if you would like to contact Alex or read some of the information he shares with readers, check out CoActive Health.