Meat is deadly?

After a 30-year career exposing doctor-spin and media-frenzy science reporting, I was not particularly surprised to see the latest fraud-fad, eating meat is dangerous.  There were headlines in the newspapers, top-of-the-hour radio reports, and prime-time television stories.  After the much lauded China Study, what should one expect?  How about you?  Do you expect science in your science?  Do you expect a modicum of skepticism in your science reporting?

How many of us remember the much touted maxim of medicine 50 years ago, “vitamins only enrich the sewer”? 

OK, that’s really stretching it.  Let’s advance a decade and re-survey; how about the media frenzy “B6 causes peripheral neuropathy”?   No?  Well, if you want a flash-back, read about halfway through

Moving forward another decade, how about “vitamin C damages your genes”?  That was a good one.  It ran for a couple of weeks.  Scientists had discovered (insert sarcasm here) that vitamin C, one of the most widely used preservatives for animal sperm (universally used for artificial inseminations of livestock), causes DNA damage (see for that story).

From the 90s, do you remember deprenyl (selegiline) “causes 60% higher mortality” in patients with Parkinson’s disease?  If so, you have to have been reading my stuff.  That one never made it to prime time.  That “sleeper” story was spun by Somerset Pharmaceuticals and the Parkinson’s Disease Research Group, neither of which wanted the underlying story to be known.  If you want tips on how to hide deaths in plain sight, check out

The point of this post is not to expose the details of this particular fraud perpetrated on the media and public.  Not very many people will read this, and most of you (who I know) already know how badly the game is rigged.  I’d rather be more interesting and rant about confounding variables, neuroendocrine mechanisms of aging, psychological empowerment, and spirituality.

But before I do, let me point towards two people who have already done what I would have liked to have done re the facts of the fraud, if I weren’t so busy (or lazy).  Let me first quote from Gary Taubes’ blog (, who writes:

“Back in 2007 when I first published Good Calories, Bad Calories I also wrote a cover story in the New York Times Magazine on the problems with observational epidemiology. The article was called “Do We Really Know What Makes Us Healthy?” and I made the argument that even the better epidemiologists in the world consider this stuff closer to a pseudoscience than a real science. I used as a case study the researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, led by Walter Willett, who runs the Nurses’ Health Study. In doing so, I wanted to point out one of the main reasons why nutritionists and public health authorities have gone off the rails in their advice about what constitutes a healthy diet. The article itself pointed out that every time in the past that these researchers had claimed that an association observed in their observational trials was a causal relationship, and that causal relationship had then been tested in experiment, the experiment had failed to confirm the causal interpretation — i.e., the folks from Harvard got it wrong. Not most times, but every time. No exception. Their batting average circa 2007, at least, was .000.”

I like that.  Gary has such a nice way with language, even when he’s rushed by ethical imperatives.  I hope this helps you relax re the dangers of meat.  In other words, this is just Chicken Little claiming the sky is falling.  Again.  Déjà vu, too.

And instead of me introducing Zoe Harcombe, let me let Gary do it:

“Now it’s these very same Harvard researchers — Walter Willett and his colleagues — who have authored this new article claiming that red meat and processed meat consumption is deadly; that eating it regularly raises our risk of dying prematurely and contracting a host of chronic diseases. Zoe Harcombe has done a wonderful job dissecting the paper at her site. I want to talk about the bigger picture (in a less concise way).”

And now I’d like to follow Gary’s example, by asking a simple question.

Are people who make atypical choices physiologically or psychologically different from people who make typical choices?

Are meat-eating people physiologically or psychologically different from non-meat-eating people?

Are people who eat mass-produced red meat physiologically or psychologically different from people who eat only grass-fed and grass-finished red meat?

And lastly, are people who eat mass-produced vegetables physiologically or psychologically different from people who eat “organic” vegetables?

Those of you who figured out that there were actually four (or eight) questions, congratulations!  But, really, there are only two:  1) Is there a physiological difference affecting health that is being ignored by Dr. Willett and colleagues in their studies?  And 2) Is there a psychological difference affecting health that is being ignored by Dr. Willett and colleagues in their studies?

As far as I am concerned, the answer is yes.

(If I said “are yes” then I wouldn’t be slapsticking nearly as well.)

One of my themes is,

“You are what you eat, drink and breathe,

… and what you think, feel, intuit, judge, do, behave and sense.”

I think this is the higher truth (wisdom) behind personal integrity (i.e., a kind of harmony between all levels of self).

To illustrate, let me flip-flop the top-down and bottom-up health systems.

Just as a lack of a specific nutrient causes a profound disturbance in metabolism (the “dance” of biomolecules), the lack of happiness, satisfaction, appreciation, gratification, acknowledgement, acceptance and peace causes a disturbance in the neuroendocrine mechanisms of health, healing and lonvevity.

Just as the presence of a heavy metal, drug or poison causes a disturbance in metabolism, the presence of unhappiness, dissatisfaction, callousness, denial, criticism, suffering and conflict causes a disturbance in the neuroendocrine mechanisms of health, healing and lonvevity.

Ideational conflicts (cognitive dissonance) affects our health and wellbeing.  Believing that eating meat is bad and still eating meat is an ideational conflict.  But choosing to eat grass-fed beef because of the opposite belief is empowerment.  Conscious choice, versus unconscious acts.  Can this really be ignored by researchers without “garbage-out”?

Suppressed feelings, emotive/motivational traumas/conflicts, and learned helplessness have a very bad effect on heath and wellbeing.  Unlike ideational conflicts, which presumably require a well developed cerebral cortex, emotive and motivational influences can be experimentally investigated in other mammals.  Learned helplessness kills rodents young, with a statistical robustness far beyond anything achievable in a questionnaire-based human survey.  (I’ll let others cite the papers.)  The loss of a spouse has catastrophic effects on short-term risk factors for humans.  (Is a citation necessary?)  Can such issues be ignored by researchers with impunity?

How can one compare health effects between people acting deliberately and other people acting unconsciously?  If a greater number of vegetarians are choosing to avoid meat deliberately and a fewer number of meat eaters are not deliberately choosing any dietary strategy at all, how can you reach a conclusion about the health effects of diet without assessing the basis of the choice being made?  Or even IF a choice is being made?  Consider advertising.  Is the image for us testosterone-poisoned humans about eating meat, driving red convertibles (or pick-up trucks), smoking cigarettes, chugging beers, lighting farts, driving fast, and not admitting that we are lost?  How does acting on this automatically affect health and wellbeing?  How is the effect of this image on health and wellbeing different if it evokes a smile, or maybe a deep and sustained belly laugh?

Real science has to be able to discriminate such variables.  Failure to take such issues into account is not just randomizing the likelihood of a correct conclusion, it pretty much guarantees garbage-out.  The researcher is then capable of being unconsciously seduced into confirming established beliefs, despite any personal rationalization of objectivity based on previous belief-changes from conscious data analysis of well-controlled studies.

How’s that for a rant?  —Steve  (this is a posting from Google+)

2 thoughts on “Meat is deadly?”

  1. Hi Steve,
    What books/sites on nutrition would you recommend? I want to start eating healthy, but I am so confused about what to eat, when and how much. I’ve started to read about paleo diet, but then I noticed that they recommended eating eggs. I remember that you said that eggs are not good (especially boiled yolk). That made me ever more paranoid about finding competent sources. I can’t attend any US courses, because I live far away =( Please help, I am so desperate.

    1. CB, I do not have any recommendations to make. Web sites are a good place to start, if you look at the information like you would clothing. If buying clothing, you’d try it on before deciding to buy it. Same with nutritional information. I do not think eggs are bad, but I do recommend against hard boiling them or over-hard frying them due to the sensitivity of egg-yolk lipids to oxygen and the known adverse effects of rancid fat and oxidized cholesterol on human health. That goes for blending egg yolks, too. If you are going to eat eggs with your smoothie, either stir the raw yolk in at the last second, or swallow it whole and chase it with smoothie. Oxygen and heat are damaging to unsaturated fats more than saturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats more than monounsaturated fats.

      The reliability of web information is generally poor. If I had to put a number on it, 90% if bad information. But that’s comparable to nutritional advice from mainstream institutions, which may be 80% bad. That’s because they rely so much on observational studies. But even double-blind, placebo-controlled studies may be 25-75% bad, depending on the area of research. Politically and economically loaded subjects like nutrition and diet are at the top end of that range. See John Ioannidis’ (Stanford) work if you have a hard time believing such numbers.

      My most basic advice is “get over it.” Do not expect comfort, certainty or peace of mind when you are thinking about diet and nutrition. It is as loaded a subject as religion and philosophy. A healthy paranoia is not a bad thing if it gets you to question your assumptions.

      Paleo is like vegetarianism. As Rev. Jack Dancer said, “There are several degrees of vegetarianism. First there are the ones who shun all animal products and eat only vegetables. They are known as “total vegetarians” or “vegans.” Then there are what they call “ovo/lacto vegetarians,” who eat vegetables too, but also partake of dairy products. Their philosophy is that you don’t have to kill milk, cheese or eggs in order to eat them. You may wonder how they justify eating fertilized eggs, which are so popular in health food stores frequented by these ovo/lacto people. The answer can probably be found in the current Supreme Court ruling on abortion, which holds that the chick embryo in an ovo/lacto’s omelet cannot yet be regarded as a living entity.”

      As you might guess, Jack Dancer is a comedian. He goes on…

      “You might not believe that there can be any lesser degrees of vegetarian than the ovo/lacto variety. But there are. Several. First, there are the ones who tell you: “Yeah, I’m a vegetarian … well, I eat fish sometimes, but I never touch meat; not even chicken.” Then there are the vegetarians who do eat chicken. Next, I expect to hear that the rabbi is a vegetarian because he won’t touch ham.
      At present, there are no lesser degrees of vegetarian than the ovo/lacto/fisho/fowlo variety, unless you want to include the part-time vegetarians. This group ranges from the kind to eat meat only once every week or so to the kind who have occasionally gone for a week or so without it. It is difficult to get an opinion from these people about why they’ve committed themselves to becoming part-time vegetarians, because they can never hold an opinion long enough to finish telling you about it.”

      Regarding paleolithic enthusiasts, there are pro-egg paleo people, and anti-egg paleo people. There are lots of anti-grain paleo people (me included), but I do not agree that our human ancestors did not eat grain at all. (I think they probably ate grain when they were very hungry, and then, only seasonally. We have clear evidence that humans figured out how to eat oak acorns, so we can safely conclude that we can figure out how to eat pretty much anything. There are pro-milk and anti-milk paleo people. There are pro-cooking and pro-raw paleo people. There is rampant diversity despite a seemingly common set of fundamental principles.

      But, since nobody alive was there at the time, we get to guess. And since the then-victors didn’t write any history, we have to guess. There is a lot of fun and entertainment in guessing. But bottom line, it’s all a SWAG.

      (scientific wild-assed guess) So read as much as you can and play the game Who’s the Best Guesser. Do they make sense. Who disagrees with them? And most importantly, learn from trying their guesses on for size, fit and color. —Steve

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