Second Opinion is our round-up of the week’s interesting and eclectic news in health and medical science from reporter Kelly Crowe and Darryl Hol at CBC Health.
Simplifying science — A cautionary tale
The pitch from the British Journal of Sports Medicine was irresistible. The press release announced: “Popular belief that saturated fats clog up arteries ‘plain wrong’ say experts.”
It was an editorial, not a new study. Still the CBC and other news media picked up the story because the authors claimed to be saying once and for all that saturated fat is heart-safe. One of the authors told the CBC, “When you look at the totality of the evidence, saturated fat does not clog the heart arteries.”
Let this be a lesson for anyone who attempts to simplify science.
The howls went up almost immediately from critics who claimed the editorial was cherry picking data and exaggerating the evidence. Here at the CBC we heard: “This whole article … is an oversimplification of the issue,” and, “You are doing a serious disservice to people.”
In the U.K., a group of heart experts weighed in, waving a 2015 meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials, the gold standard of evidence. But even that study added to the confusion, by only showing a modest reduction in the risk of heart disease and stroke when people reduced animal fat in their diets. There was no change in their risk of death.
So despite the attempt to clarify the saturated fat issue, the editorial reminded us that it’s as complicated as ever.
One thing is clear. If there is a link between eating saturated fat and heart disease, it’s hard to see in research studies. That could be because the studies are not large enough or long enough, there are too many confounding factors, people don’t stick to their diets, or don’t tell the truth when they fill out the research questionnaires.
Human health is complicated. When you change one thing, you trigger a cascade of other changes. Eating more of…