I’m generally an optimistic guy. I see the good in people and I USUALLY think we can change the world for the better. A few recent events have seriously shaken my faith in both the goodness of people and the ability for us to “crowd source” our way out of a serious pickle. I’m going to talk about these events/observations and in that talking I’m going to likely piss some of you off. Heck, it might even be worse than getting one Spanish language RSS feed or tweet per week (kind of an obscure joke…ask me about it sometime when I’ve been drinking.) Not only will I piss some folks off, I will also destroy any hope I have of getting on several mainstream TV shows. Sometimes the right thing to do is neither popular nor profitable, so here goes:
Welcome to the Land of Oz
The current Time Magazine features a piece called “The Dr. Oz Diet.” The whole text is not available unless you are an online subscriber, but many people have commented on the good Dr’s thoughts about the paleo diet. He describes it as “Alterna-Atkins” and cites as the major failing of the paleo concept the fact our ancestors lived short lives: “it’s worth remembering that cavemen often died in their forties because their diet did not give them the ability to fight off infection (or sabre tooth tigers)”.
Now, you might excuse Dr. Oz on his lack of anthropological understanding (which in fact we should not, this lack of evolutionary biology in medicine is right at the heart of our woes) but he has been given extensive information on the paleo diet concept.
Via a mutual acquaintance Dr. Oz and his production crew were given an extensive primer on the paleo diet, pertinent research and perhaps most importantly this story: One of Oz’s production assistants has a close relative who developed Multiple Sclerosis at an early age. She had extensive neurological involvement and clear demylenation of her neurons, as evidenced by brain imaging. I was introduced to this girl with early, aggressive MS and recommended that she try the autoimmune protocol of paleo (freely available as a download in the quick start guide). After a few months she showed no signs or symptoms of MS, and her CT scans showed a remarkable reversal in the inflammation indicative of active multiple sclerosis. All of this is clearly known by Oz and the production staff. The closest I came to getting on the show was potentially being part of a panel on “ancient diets which would have included the “Ancient Egyptian diet”. That same one that seems to have given all the Egyptian mummies heart disease. Great company to keep!
So, these people are clearly aware of the paleo diet, have a compelling story from literally within their midst’s…and the ancestral diet concept does not rank better than “cave men died young.” Again, you might excuse this until you consider some of the “distinctions” Dr. Oz has received, including his 2nd Pigasus award by noted skeptic and debunker, James Randi. You can read how the Pigasus came about on the James Randi site, but here is the specific Pigasus Award bestowed upon Dr. Oz:
The Media Pigasus Award goes to Dr. Mehmet Oz, who has done such a disservice to his TV viewers by promoting quack medical practices that he is now the first person to win a Pigasus two years in a row. Dr. Oz is a Harvard-educated cardiac physician who, through his syndicated TV show, has promoted faith healing, “energy medicine,” and other quack theories that have no scientific basis. Oz has appeared on ABC News to give legitimacy to the claims of Brazilian faith healer “John of God,” who uses old carnival tricks to take money from the seriously ill. He’s hosted Ayurvedic guru Yogi Cameron on his show to promote nonsense “tongue examination” as a way of diagnosing health problems. This year, he really went off the deep end. In March 2011, Dr. Oz endorsed “psychic” huckster and past Pigasus winner John Edward, who pretends to talk to dead people. Oz even suggested that bereaved families should visit psychic mediums to receive (faked) messages from their dead relatives as a form of grief counseling.
Faith healers, mediums and known hucksters DO make the guest list, someone talking about Evolutionary Medicine and a protocol which appears to reverse Multiple Sclerosis (in a family member of the production staff), Rheumatoid Arthritis and a host of other ailments, does not. And this guy is “America’s doctor.” Apparently I need a better publicist.
That should be enough to thoroughly bum a person out, but there is more. It’s been an interesting few days.
Dr. Melina…I presume
They say no press is bad press so I guess from that perspective the past few days have been good for paleo/ancestral health. On the other hand it takes the starch out of one’s britches to realize our TV “medical experts” are sell outs. Case in point: CNN online recently had a piece “Is the Paleo Diet healthy?”
CNN’s medical correspondent, Dr. Melina Jampolis responded to the question. Now, I’m sure Dr. Melina is a nice person, but she summarily dismisses the Paleo diet (and perpetuates the damnable myth that this way of eating is expensive…will tackle this soon in another post) while wrapping up her critique with a recommendation to “eat less processed food, eat food in it’s natural state…”
Maybe it’s just me, but I sense a disconnect here.
Quite a number of ancestral-diet-savvy folks piled onto the comments section, not dissimilar to what we saw with the US News top diets piece which saw many thousands of people praising the paleo diet for it’s effects on their health and wellness. This despite the last place ranking via the US News experts, who apparently did NOT rank things as reported by US News.
So, this is not specifically what made me lose hope in all things good. This is just another example of an MD who remembered her flow charts long enough to pass boards and has never been exposed to evolutionary biology concepts in the context of medicine. You know, business as usual. I can’t even get too spun up about Dr. Melina’s abomination of a nutrition bar which could only be made worse if gluten and depleted uranium were added to the mix.
No, this did not get me. What did get me was the response on my Facebook page when I tweeted “It looks like Dr. Melina does not believe Evolution applies to humans.” I saw quite a number of people comment something to this effect:
“The paleo way of eating has transformed my life, healed many an ill. There is tons of science to back it, but evolution is just bunk…”
That friends, is what made me seriously consider scrapping this whole project.
Here are the things we are up against:
- Modern refined foods are both damn tasty AND likely addictive. It takes a serious desire for change to bypass these foods.
- Billions of dollars are spent in the marketing and advertising of these foods. We are assailed from every direction, every day.
- Our “medical experts” have agendas far removed from health. General Mills, Monsanto, Farm subsidies are all playing the background music of “dollars from heaven” for those willing so sell out.
- It’s not likely you will get an audience with the media if you are selling legitimate health. Faith-healers and “nutrition” bars, yes. Remedy for Multiple Sclerosis, no.
- When I, or people like me try to take the fight to these “people” (a term of endearment ala Al Swearengen seems more appropriate here…) I can expect less than 16% of America to have my back in this fight. Folks may think paleo eating is just ducky, but man did not come from ape.
- Without a comprehensive, epistemological base to stand upon, the medical community, academia etc. will continue pushing the same erroneous bull-shit. Without this epistemology based approach, we are reduced to what is effectively urban warfare, clearing house to house (“their” study vs “our” study) with no hope of winning or really changing things.
I know I’m going to piss-off and alienate some people but…this is the same character flaw that got me bounced from CrossFit. I knew that smart CF + paleo eating was saving lives. I tried like crazy to get the leadership to acknowledge that fact but you know how that turned out. So…
Here are two interestingly similar quotes:
“One need not believe in God to receive help from God.”
“One need not believe in science for science to work in our lives.”
Both are obviously belief systems. Science tries to “have all the answers” but never will. One place that certain science oriented people miss the boat is trying to bring science to bear on the question of faith or religion. By definition this is the realm of the supernatural and science is not well suited to comment on this topic. On the other hand we have religious doctrine which appears to be at odds with certain scientific concepts. Likely the most prominent modern case, that evolution is not a fact. In the past, religion felt set upon by the teachings of Galileo which conflicted with the view that the earth was the center of the universe. Science has largely won this argument, although there are still people who believe in a Flat Earth. Might evolution see the same vindication? Galileo was put on house arrest for his ideas in the 1600′s. He was formerly exonerated by the church in 2000. I guess we can expect broad acceptance of evolution sometime in the 2360′s if we can use the first example as a guide.
At the end of the day, I do not give two-shits about this stuff relative to the desire to simply help people. I’ve meet too many people whose lives have either been transformed by this paleo diet concept to just let it drop. Here is a funny thing: as a non-religious, non-spiritual guy I feel a MORAL IMPERATIVE to help as many people as I can because I’m pretty sure I have information rattling between my ears that can save lives. I by no means have all the answers but a firefighter does not need to know the ins and outs of thermodynamics to save a family in a burning house. I (and most all of you) know enough about this paleo shtick to literally transform the world as we know it.
As a scientist I am forced to constantly reevaluate my belief system. When someone shows me something that helps people better than an evolutionary biology oriented approach to health and medicine, I’ll be the first person in the pool. Until then I’m going to push what I’ve seen to be the most beneficial, be it evolutionary biology or Libertarian economic ideas. It’d be nice to have y’all on the team because we have a serious scrap ahead of us and I do not expect Dr’s Oz or Melina aiding our cause.
Several years ago I asked Prof. Cordain to write a critique of The China Study as this is an influencial pro-vegan book which seems to implicate animal products in a host of ailments, including cancer. Instead of a simple critique of T.Colin Campbells book, Loren suggested a debate between himself and Campbell on the roll of protein in degenerative disease. The result of this idea was The Protein Debate. We paid Prof’s Cordain & Campbell to make their case for the roll of protein in health & disease, be allowed a counter point, then a counter to the counter point. This was while I was still part owner of the Performance Menu and initially the idea was that this protein debate would be a sale-able item. After I read the introduction by Prof. Cordain I knew that I could not charge for this piece because what Loren had to say on the state of nutrition and research as it relates to evolution (or more specifically, the lack of a comprehensive, binding theory as is common to find in other disciplines) was too important to not make it freely available. I’m no philanthropist, I love making money, but this was another choice life presented me in which I had to figure out what was right & wrong for the greater good. Making this work free was the right thing to do. This is an excerpt from the debate:
In mature and well-developed scientific disciplines there are universal paradigms that guide scientists to fruitful end points as they design their experiments and hypotheses. For instance, in cosmology (the study of the universe) the guiding paradigm is the “Big Bang” concept showing that the universe began with an enormous explosion and has been expanding ever since. In geology, the “Continental Drift” model established that all of the current continents at one time formed a continuous landmass that eventually drifted apart to form the present-day continents. These central concepts are not theories for each discipline, but rather are indisputable facts that serve as orientation points for all other inquiry within each discipline. Scientists do not know everything about the nature of the universe, but it is absolutely unquestionable that it has been and is expanding. This central knowledge then serves as a guiding template that allows scientists to make much more accurate and informed hypotheses about factors yet to be discovered.
The study of human nutrition remains an immature science because it lacks a universally acknowledged unifying paradigm (11). Without an overarching and guiding template, it is not surprising that there is such seeming chaos, disagreement and confusion in the discipline. The renowned Russian geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900-1975) said, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” (12). Indeed, nothing in nutrition seems to make sense because most nutritionists have little or no formal training in evolutionary theory, much less human evolution. Nutritionists face the same problem as anyone who is not using an evolutionary model to evaluate biology: fragmented information and no coherent way to interpret the data.
Apparently I contributed some of this section in a conversation I had with Loren in 2001. I do not remember the talk specifically, but Loren has reminded me of it a few times in our talks and I’m honored I could contribute to not only this piece but also my mentors thinking on this subject.
Just as the work of Galileo and Newton form the basis of astronomy, physics and cosmology today I believe the research/thinking from people like Loren Cordain, Boyd Eaton, Staffan Lindeberg etc will be central to nutritional science in 200-300 years. It’s remarkable to think about…but an awful long time to wait.