Myths in Medical News
Deconstructing Medical “News”
By Karen Robinson
I sometimes watch the health segment on the TV show 20/20, for “practice”. Last night a
piece was aired urging us to get a blood test for C-Reactive Protein (CRP) to detect inflammation which could be predictive of heart attack.
Dr. Tim Johnson concluded the piece with the kind of assurance we’re relieved to hear, that now that we know that inflammation is involved, and we have this CRP test, heart attacks may soon be a thing of the past.
(There are many clear methods of addressing the underlying issues of heart disease, but not by the road he’s suggesting which is paved with dangerous “statin” drugs.)
The piece began innocently enough by discussing how inflammation in the arterial walls can cause unstable plaques that can rupture. The woman shown as an example did not have high cholesterol, so it seemed as though the story might not be related to cholesterol.. But wait..
When it turned out that her CRP test result was high, indicating an inflammatory response, the doctor first put her on a low-fat diet. (We’ll get to that in a minute).
But naturally that can’t be the end of the story. The piece went on to report that for most people, dietary measures alone won’t be enough to bring CRP levels down, but guess what can– that’s right, “statin” drugs, the good old expensive cholesterol-lowering drugs are now being prescribed for people with inflammatory conditions. Now there will hardly be anyone left who doesn’t “need” these expensive drugs. Ahem.
It’s not enough that the guidelines keep getting tighter for recommending these drugs, but more uses for them seem to be pulled out of a hat. As consumers we’re usually pretty savvy, but as medical patients we lose our bearings so easily.
Okay, let’s fill in a bit more of the picture. First of all, do we know that the CRP test predicts arterial inflammation specifically? No; it’s simply a non-specific indicator, like blood presure is, and also fluctuates throughout the day. CRP is simply a marker of some type of inflammation, and is seen elevated in the case of certain infections and other inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
When you’re looking at a non-specific indicator, it stands to reason that more information is needed to determine the exact nature of the relationship between this finding and a disease.
UK physician Malcolm Kendrick wrote about this over a year ago:
When you find an abnormality of some sort that is associated with a disease, you can make a number of different conjectures:
- The abnormality is caused by the disease
- An underlying problem causes both the abnormality and the â€˜diseaseâ€™
- The disease is caused by the abnormality
- Itâ€™s a coincidence (one in twenty chance)
- You havenâ€™t measured things properly
Now that elevated CRP is becoming a recognized risk factor for heart disease, the suggestion that lowering CRP prevents heart disease becomes a conclusion that we tend to accept, in the upside-down world of medicine we live in.
The next problem area is the low-fat diet recommendation. This is fraught with problems. Let’s look at saturated fat first.. Saturated fat has been maligned to the advantage of the vegetable oil industry and the low-fat processed food industry. This changeover to vegetable fats has seriously unbalanced the essential fatty acid intake of the population. For ages humans have eaten naturally occuring saturated fats and diets were high in essential fatty acids; some indigenous cultures have eaten up to 70% of their calories from fats and largely saturated, with no heart disease.
Heart disease was largely unknown until the 20th century, and not because it wasn’t diagnosed (the diagnosis of heart attack doesn’t require any sophisticated technology). Animal fat was eaten in abundance, and people weren’t eating low-fat dairy products until very recently in human history.
It’s no wonder the familiar line goes, “Diet doesn’t work for everyone.” What they mean by “diet” is a diet dangerously low in fat. Among many important functions, saturated fats actually enhance the utilization of essential fatty acids.. and the Omega-3 fatty acids are important players in the
anti-inflammatory biochemical pathway.. Starts to make sense?
There are so many levels of fallacy here; it’s staggering. Besides low-fat diets promoting inflammation by promoting deficiencies of natural anti-inflammatory nutrients, they promote inflammation by being high in carbohydrates.
The politically-correct dietary guidelines are bringing us numerous health disasters. High carbohydrate diets have been associated with elevated CRP and other risk factors for diabetes and CHD. And the statin drugs that are rapidly becoming “cure-alls” dangerously deplete CoQ10, a nutrient the heart muscle must have in abundant supply in order to function properly.
This approach just won’t work.
But the medical profession is again turning cause and effect the wrong way around by focusing on CRP, eagerly grabbing onto a biomarker to turn the facts into more sales for pharmaceuticals.
â€œThe diet-heart idea (the idea that saturated fats and cholesterol cause heart
disease) is the greatest scientific deception of our times.â€ –George
Mann, MD, former Professor of Medicine and Biochemistry at Vanderbilt
University, Tennessee; heart disease researcher.