Agenda-driven group commits crime against common sense and good science; Critique of authors’ silly conclusions constitutes hunting of barrel-bound-fish
by Craig Weatherby
A recent attack on the well-deserved heart-health reputation of fish and fish oil reminds us of Big Oil’s fight to deny humans’ role in global warming, since both depend on distorted analyses of data and overlooking a mountain of inconvenient research.
The regrettable new attempt to deny reality – mounted by the vegan-run Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) – is especially deplorable coming from people claiming to be scientists.
Vegans are the strictest kind of vegetarian, and will eat no meat, dairy, or animal products, including milk and eggs.
The vegan doctors at PCRM are infamous for disguising their ideological drive against all animal-derived foods behind distortions of scientific research.
Physicians are supposed be scientists, and should therefore adopt an objective attitude to nutrition and health. But in this case, ideology trumped intellectual honesty.
They might as well have declared the Earth flat because “it looks that way from here”.
PCRM’s dangerous distortion
The PCRM doctors analyzed data gathered by other researchers as part of the Diabetic Control and Complications Trial, which tracked food intake data from 1,441 diabetic Americans over a nine-year period.
As the PCRM press release states, correctly, “Researchers found that participants consuming the most omega-3 fatty acids from fish generally consume less saturated fat and more dietary fiber. Meanwhile, participants eating less fish but greater quantities of other meats consume more overall saturated fat and less fiber.”
But the PCRM release then state the ridiculous conclusion the authors of their analysis drew: “This finding suggests that improved heart health, often attributed to fish consumption, actually results from a generally healthier dietary pattern, including higher intakes of fiber and lower intakes of saturated fat, rather than the fish itself.”
In other words, they claim that the heart benefits observed in fish eaters flow from replacing meat with fish, and not from any benefits stemming from consumption of the long-chain “marine” omega-3s found only in fish and proven essential to human health.
If this claim weren’t potentially harmful, it would be humorous.
To paraphrase author Terrence McKenna’s self-deprecating account of his encounter with a British physicist, the venerable scientist offered this dry response to a hare-brained cosmic schema he’d just proposed: “My dear boy, this is so wrong that ‘wrong’ doesn’t quite do it justice.”
Likewise, the fact that the data from one diabetes study suggests that replacement of meat with fish could explain why mountains of data demonstrate that fish-eaters enjoy better heart health does not even come close to proving that hypothesis.
Grain of truth misused to hide haystacks of contrary evidence
Frankly, the PCRM team’s conclusions are so absurd that refuting them is like shooting fish in a barrel, if you will pardon the pun.
Part of the cardiovascular benefit observed in fish-eating people probably does stem from their reduced consumption of meats, dairy, and poultry from factory farmed, grain-fed animals. Compared with the animal foods eaten by our ancestors, the modern counterparts are low in omega-3s and high in omega-6 fatty acids, excessive intake of which is linked to greater heart health risks.
But as the PCRM people must be aware, evidence from human studies demonstrate, convincingly, that marine omega-3s reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death, stroke, and second heart attacks.
And there’s voluminous evidence that omega-3s enhance vascular health and improve blood fat profiles, and the findings from thousands of cell and animal studies show, in detail, exactly how they deliver these life-saving benefits.
We will simply note that the American Heart Association recommends fish for heart health, and that health authorities in the UK recently issued a recommendation that all heart attack patients take fish oil (See “UK Health Service Advises Fish Oil” in this issue of Vital Choices).
The idea that fish fat is good for heart health has long since crossed the evidentiary line from being a mere hypothesis into being an accepted theory.
By definition, scientific theories are positions accepted by the overwhelming majority of researchers because they are supported by an overwhelming body of experimental evidence.
The theory of evolution is perhaps the best-known example of one. Unfortunately, people’s misunderstanding of the term “theory” misleads many into thinking there remains a significant degree of doubt about evolution among scientists, when there is virtually none because its predictive power is confirmed every day in labs the world over.
In contrast, hypotheses are suppositions that are still being tested, and do not yet enjoy the support of an overwhelming body of experimental evidence.
Disingenuous failure to disclose an animal-rights agenda
The lead author of the PCRM study was one Amy Joy Lanou, Ph.D., who is an assistant professor of health and wellness at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, but more importantly, also serves a senior nutrition “scientist” at PCRM.
Sadly, in line with the generally disingenuous nature of research analyzed or performed by the vegan-run PCRM, the lead author and one co-author of the study failed to disclose that the former works with the PCRM, and that the latter is a vegetarian.
So much for objectivity and honesty. And the distortions don’t end with the PCRM author’s absurd, sweeping conclusion that the associations apparent in the diabetes study overturn mountains of prior research.
Dr. Lanou is quoted in the PCRM release as saying, “Fish has a questionable role in heart-disease prevention and contains surprisingly high levels of mercury and other toxins, as well as fat and cholesterol, making it a poor dietary choice. Consumers have good reason to steer clear of fish.”
We beg to differ.
First, as to mercury in fish, two recent evidence reviews concluded that the benefits to brain and heart health of eating low-mercury fish outweigh the risks. (The wild Alaskan fish we offer are much lower in mercury than most commercial species.)
And as we reported last year, ocean fish contain abundant amounts of the mercury-neutralizing mineral selenium.
This long-overlooked protective mechanism in ocean fish may account for the total lack of negative developmental or health effects seen in the best, largest study every conducted in a population (the Seychelles Islands) where mothers and children eat huge amounts of fish.
Second, the presence of modest amounts of cholesterol and saturated fatty acids in fish – along with omega-3s – is a non-issue, as discussed in today's accompanying article (See "Baby’s Death Highlights Vegan Docs’ Distortions").
We can only hope that the American Journal of Cardiology pens an editorial challenging the highly dubious conclusions published in this generally reputable publication.
- Cundiff DK, Lanou AJ, Nigg CR. Relation of omega-3 Fatty Acid intake to other dietary factors known to reduce coronary heart disease risk. Am J Cardiol. 2007 May 1;99(9):1230-3. Epub 2007 Mar 16.
- Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Fish Does Not Protect the Heart, Researchers Say. http://www.pcrm.org/news/release070431.html