Monday, 8 November 2010

misleading information in the Daily Mail

I read the Daily Mail on Friday (05/11/10) and there were two articles about food that were misleading. The first was by Martin Samuel on page 18 entitled Fish oil or a load of codswallop? The second one by 'Daily Mail Reporter' was called Organic vegetables 'no better for health'.

Martin Samuel referred to a review by Dr Majid Fotuhi last year which concluded that fish oil cannot prevent or treat Alzheimer's Disease. This was interesting to me because I had no idea that anyone had ever suggested that fish oil or cod liver oil could help Alzheimer's Disease.

Fish oil contains long chain omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA). They are known to help reduce inflammation and as such are helpful in preventing heart disease as well as things like arthritis. They are an important part of the structure of the brain, and lack of it is associated with depression.

Martin Samuel wrote 'Fish oil is among the great modern myths. Excellent as part of a balanced diet; largely lacking in wonder-pill qualities if taken alone'. What he seems to be saying is that eating fish could be beneficial but consuming fish oil is of no value at all. This is simply wrong.

I was not aware that fish oil was supposed to help Alzheimer's, although if you look hard enough on the web you can find that some people do - or did - think that. What I do know is that vitamin B has been shown to be linked to Alzheimer's. In the New Scientist recently was an article Low levels of vitamin B12 linked to Alzheimer's.

Not long long ago there was an interesting programme on Radio 4 showing how important vitamin D is. New research shows that it is important to the body in many different ways, much more important than was thought before. Lack of vitamin D is associated with Parkinson's Disease, MS and TB. Martin Samuel railed against 'the dubious vitamin pill industry' but I am glad that for years I have take a vitamin supplement. I don't take a vitamin and mineral supplement because I don't want to take extra iron; as an adult male extra iron will not help me and could harm me.

The second article said that a 'universtity study' showed that organic vegetables have roughly the same amount of polyphenols. The article described polyphenols as 'the chemical compound in vegetables that helps fight cancer, heart disease and dementia'. Polyphenols are only one type of antioxidant. We cannot be sure that antioxidants in food have any health benefits.

Most people who buy organic food do so because the long term cumulative effects of ingesting a cocktail of small amounts of different agrochemicals are unknown. Or they don't like the effect that agrochemicals have on wildlife. Or they don't want to support an agricultural system that they don't believe in, for reasons explored elsewhere on this blog. It isn't anything to do with polyphenols.

We can see a pattern emerging in tabloid reporting on health issues. First they take some obscure research. Then they pretend that people buy a supplement or a food for a particular reason when they don't. Then they ridicule anyone who wastes their money on the supplement or the premium priced food. The annoying thing is that anyone who doesn't know anything about nutritition will believe what they are reading. They will avoid healthy food because people like Martin Samuel have cast doubt on it. I don't eat organic food but I respect people who do. This is people's health we're talking about, and these tabloid hacks are harming it.

There are three types of people when it comes to health information. There are those who take the information on board for the benefit of themselves and their family. There are those who decide to take no notice and continue as before. Both of these types of people I am happy with. I have no objection to people smoking, as long as they don't pretend to the world that smoking is not harmful.

The third type of person is the type of person who doesn't want to take the information on board but they don't want to appear to be stupid. They try to muddy the waters, to use convoluted arguments to try to cast doubts on scientific evidence. There is nothing wrong with challenging scientific evidence, that is what scientists do to each other all the time. It is a necessary part of science. But scientists use concise arguments and evidence. These people don't.

They insist that the way they were brought up must have been as good as any, that their traditional way of eating cannot be wrong in any way. They often believe that butter must be OK because it is natural and traditional. Fish oil must be wrong because Grandma never used it. Actually Grandma probably did use it, or at least cod liver oil. Maybe, in this case, Grandma knew best.

So I'm going to continue to take my fish oil capsules, and my vitamin supplement, not just because of research results but because of possible research results in the future. I want to be in a position where when more evidence comes along of the value of DHA and EPA or vitamins B and D I know that I've been taking it for years.

I don't swallow my fish oil capsules. They are quite big. I put one in my mouth and break it with my teeth. The oil tastes nice. It makes me wonder why in Grandma's generation they hated the taste of cod liver oil. It was probably because it came from a bottle and was rancid. I keep mine in the fridge. I intend to have cod liver oil in winter because it is considerably higher in vitamin D than fish oil, and we make less vitamin D in our skin in winter.

There may be a problem with Cod Liver Oil though. Some brands add vitamins A and D. It could be that some people may be taking too much vitamin A. Some would say that taking lots of vitamin A negates the benefits of taking lots of vitamin D. I don't take megadoses of any vitamin, and I like to get a lot of my vitamins from the food that I eat. RDAs (Recomended Daily Allowances) are not relevant to anything, they are just guesswork.

If you ask the question 'do we need vitamin pills?' that by itself is a meaningless question. If you ask the question 'do we need vitamin pills to stay alive?' the answer is obviously no. If you ask the question 'do we need vitamin pills to prevent deficiency diseases?' again the answer is obviously no. If you ask the question 'do we need vitamin pills to obtain the optimum amount of vitamins for all the various functions known and unknown?' that is a more difficult question to answer. It is a question I hope will be answered at some time in the future, but we are getting closer to the answer.

I went to the Daily Mail website to look for links to these two articles so that I could include them on this blog page. I didn't find them, but then I didn't look very hard. What I did find was that Martin Samuel seems to be a sports reporter. Nice to know that the Daily Mail always has an expert on hand when they need to deal with the important issue of the health of millions of people.

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