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Cancer researcher says keto is not a fad diet
Anatomy and physiology professor David Harper claims a recent study in The Lancet is flawed.
- The low-carbohydrate group in a recent Lancet study were typically middle-aged, obese, sedentary, diabetic smokers.
- The study was not a randomized, controlled, double-blind experiment.
- Harper has been in ketosis for six years, and says it has profound effects on cancer patients, among other chronic ailments.
Here we go again.
For nearly three years I've written about varying aspects of the ketogenic diet. I was initially a fan, given that switching from a decades-long, carb-heavy vegetarian diet to a paleo-friendly, ketogenic diet eradicated my chronic history with gastrointestinal problems, stopped the hundreds of panic attacks I've suffered in my life cold, and caused me to shed ten pounds in three weeks.
As with many fad diets, I was not alone. Advocates appeared in droves. Yet as the hype progressed, the ketogenic diet started being treated as a panacea for all the world's nutritional problems, making it the perfect time to become suspicious.
As with anything scientific, some were always skeptical. Yet the foundational message of ketosis is sound: we eat too many carbs, especially in the form of processed foodstuffs and sugars. You never need to gorge only on sweet potatoes or intermittent fast to understand this—though, to be fair, perhaps the most beneficial advice of this entire trend is that we eat too much over too many hours of the day. There's something to be said for not eating for stretches of time.
Both high and low percentages of carbohydrate diets were associated with increased mortality, with minimal risk observed at 50–55% carbohydrate intake. Low carbohydrate dietary patterns favouring animal-derived protein and fat sources, from sources such as lamb, beef, pork, and chicken, were associated with higher mortality, whereas those that favoured plant-derived protein and fat intake, from sources such as vegetables, nuts, peanut butter, and whole-grain breads, were associated with lower mortality, suggesting that the source of food notably modifies the association between carbohydrate intake and mortality.
Given that ketogenic diets generally call for 70-80 percent fat intake, with no more than 50 grams of carbohydrates a day—a 16-oz Caramel Frappuccino comes in at 60 grams, along with 59 grams of sugar—The Lancet's call for half your calories being derived from carbohydrate sources seemed to be the proverbial nail.
Not so fast.
Anatomy and physiology professor David Harper has been on a ketogenic diet for six years. Like me, he experienced immediate weight loss—22 pounds in 12 weeks. (And like me, he was not overweight; the drop occurred in midsection fat.) So Harper, a cancer researcher, looked beyond the results to methods and found the study flawed:
First, The Lancet study did not consider ketogenic diets. Their limits for "low carbohydrate" are between 30 and 40 per cent of total calories, so participants in this group were never in a state of nutritional ketosis. Second, the low-carbohydrate group in the study were typically middle-aged, obese, sedentary, diabetic smokers. No surprise they found a few years shorter life-span. Third, this study is not a randomized, controlled, double-blind experiment—the gold standard of science.
That a study turns out to be not-quite-correct should not surprise. As John Ioannidis wrote in PLOS Medicine in 2005, most research findings turn out to be false. A ketogenic diet has been in use for a century as a treatment for epilepsy; Harper notes that it is being used in treatments for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's, and cancer—he's a visiting scientist at the B.C. Cancer Research Centre.
Harper attributes much of this success to the reduction of chronic inflammation in the body produced by excess carbohydrate and sugar intake. Systemic inflammation has a profound effect on cancer and the cardiovascular system. The production of ketone bodies produces health-sustaining effects in the brain and nervous system. Harper doesn't even touch the microbiome in his plea, though the influence of the enteric nervous system on the body's immune system (among others) is now well-documented.
Anecdote is not data, though I've spent a long time contemplating my own health issues. Putting cancer aside (my testicular cancer appears to have been genetic), I can speak to anxiety disorder, which I suffered from for 25 years. During most of that time I was a pescatarian, vegetarian, or vegan. Every meat or dairy product (protein and fat) I removed was calorically replaced by carbohydrates. While I generally ate little processed, packaged foods, I still consumed plenty of bread. During this period I was keeping my body in a constant state of inflammation.
While I no longer attempt ketosis, my carbohydrate levels are greatly reduced, my fat intake increased. Shortly after starting this diet, which I tried for GI issues, I was surprised by the other results: weight loss, sure, but also the complete absence of panic attacks and cessation of chronic canker sores. When your nervous system is not battling the effects of the food you're eating, your body can actually relax.
This is not medical advice. There are too many factors for any diet to be considered the best for anyone. Harper, however, doesn't want the ketogenic diet to even be considered a "diet." As he said:
We've been telling people to eat the wrong diet for 40 years, and we've seen the results.
He notes that he no longer craves sweet foods; instead, he reaches for butter and cream to satiate his appetite. As with anything, our addictions shift as we replace the context. Harper makes a crucial point to keto skeptics: trace our post World War II food consumption patterns and disease and you'll find a disturbing link. In a time when pretty much any food is available during any season, we're fatter and sicker than ever.
For therapeutic reasons, including weight loss, the ketogenic diet might offer real value. The general consumer might not need to go to such extremes—85 percent fat intake is a bit much for most of us. That said, the necessity of a reduction in carbs and sugars is obvious. All the charts and data in the world don't replace basic common sense.
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From "if-by-whiskey" to the McNamara fallacy, being able to spot logical missteps is an invaluable skill.
- A fallacy is the use of invalid or faulty reasoning in an argument.
- There are two broad types of logical fallacies: formal and informal.
- A formal fallacy describes a flaw in the construction of a deductive argument, while an informal fallacy describes an error in reasoning.
Appeal to privacy<p>When someone behaves in a way that negatively affects (or could affect) others, but then gets upset when others criticize their behavior, they're likely engaging in the appeal to privacy — or "mind your own business" — fallacy. Examples:<br></p><ul><li>Someone who speeds excessively on the highway, considering his driving to be his own business.</li><li>Someone who doesn't see a reason to bathe or wear deodorant, but then boards a packed 10-hour flight.</li></ul><p>Language to watch out for: "You're not the boss of me." "Worry about yourself."</p>
Sunk cost fallacy<p>When someone argues for continuing a course of action despite evidence showing it's a mistake, it's often a sunk cost fallacy. The flawed logic here is something like: "We've already invested so much in this plan, we can't give up now." Examples:<br></p><ul><li>Someone who intentionally overeats at an all-you-can-eat buffet just to get their "money's worth"</li><li>A scientist who won't admit his theory is incorrect because it would be too painful or costly</li></ul><p>Language to watch out for: "We must stay the course." "I've already invested so much...." "We've always done it this way, so we'll keep doing it this way."</p>
If-by-whiskey<p>This fallacy is named after a speech given in 1952 by <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noah_S._Sweat" target="_blank">Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr.</a>, a state representative for <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mississippi" target="_blank">Mississippi</a>, on the subject of whether the state should legalize alcohol. Sweat's argument on prohibition was (to paraphrase):<br></p><p><em>If, by whiskey, you mean the devil's brew that causes so many problems in society, then I'm against it. But if whiskey means the oil of conversation, the philosopher's wine, "</em><em>the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning;" then I am certainly for it.</em></p>
Slippery slope<p>This fallacy involves arguing against a position because you think choosing it would start a chain reaction of bad things, even though there's little evidence to support your claim. Example:<br></p><ul><li>"We can't allow abortion because then society will lose its general respect for life, and it'll become harder to punish people for committing violent acts like murder."</li><li>"We can't legalize gay marriage. If we do, what's next? Allowing people to marry cats and dogs?" (Some people actually made this <a href="https://www.daytondailynews.com/news/national/cats-marrying-dogs-and-five-other-things-same-sex-marriage-won-mean/dLV9jKqkJOWUFZrSBETWkK/" target="_blank">argument</a> before same-sex marriage was legalized in the U.S.)</li></ul><p>Of course, sometimes decisions <em>do </em>start a chain reaction, which could be bad. The slippery slope device only becomes a fallacy when there's no evidence to suggest that chain reaction would actually occur.</p><p>Language to watch out for: "If we do that, then what's next?"</p>
"There is no alternative"<p><span style="background-color: initial;">A modification of the </span><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_dilemma" target="_blank" style="background-color: initial;">false dilemma</a><span style="background-color: initial;">, this fallacy (often abbreviated to TINA) argues for a specific position because there are no realistic alternatives. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used this exact line as a slogan to defend capitalism, and it's still used today to that same end: Sure, capitalism has its problems, but we've seen the horrors that occur when we try anything else, so there is no alternative.</span><br></p><p>Language to watch out for: "If I had a magic wand…" "What <em>else</em> are we going to do?!"</p>
Ad hoc arguments<p>An ad hoc argument isn't really a logical fallacy, but it is a fallacious rhetorical strategy that's common and often hard to spot. It occurs when someone's claim is threatened with counterevidence, so they come up with a rationale to dismiss the counterevidence, hoping to protect their original claim. Ad hoc claims aren't designed to be generalizable. Instead, they're typically invented in the moment. <a href="https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Ad_hoc" target="_blank">RationalWiki</a> provides an example:<br></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">Alice: "It is clearly said in the Bible that the Ark was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">Bob: "A purely wooden vessel of that size could not be constructed; the largest real wooden vessels were Chinese treasure ships which required iron hoops to build their keels. Even the <em>Wyoming</em> which was built in 1909 and had iron braces had problems with her hull flexing and opening up and needed constant mechanical pumping to stop her hold flooding."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">Alice: "It's possible that God intervened and allowed the Ark to float, and since we don't know what gopher wood is, it is possible that it is a much stronger form of wood than any that comes from a modern tree."</p>
Snow job<p><span style="background-color: initial;">This fallacy occurs when someone doesn't really have a strong argument, so they just throw a bunch of irrelevant facts, numbers, anecdotes and other information at the audience to confuse the issue, making it harder to refute the original claim. Example:</span><br></p><ul><li>A tobacco company spokesperson who is confronted about the health risks of smoking, but then proceeds to show graph after graph depicting many of the other ways people develop cancer, and how cancer metastasizes in the body, etc.</li></ul><p>Watch out for long-winded, data-heavy arguments that seem confusing by design.</p>
McNamara fallacy<p>Named after <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_McNamara" target="_blank">Robert McNamara</a>, the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Secretary_of_Defense" target="_blank">U.S. secretary of defense</a> from 1961 to 1968, this fallacy occurs when decisions are made based solely on <em>quantitative metrics or observations,</em> ignoring other factors. It stems from the Vietnam War, in which McNamara sought to develop a formula to measure progress in the war. He decided on bodycount. But this "objective" formula didn't account for other important factors, such as the possibility that the Vietnamese people would never surrender.<br></p><p>You could also imagine this fallacy playing out in a medical situation. Imagine a terminal cancer patient has a tumor, and a certain procedure helps to reduce the size of the tumor, but also causes a lot of pain. Ignoring quality of life would be an example of the McNamara fallacy.</p><p>Language to watch out for: "You can't measure that, so it's not important."</p>
A new study looks at what would happen to human language on a long journey to other star systems.
- A new study proposes that language could change dramatically on long space voyages.
- Spacefaring people might lose the ability to understand the people of Earth.
- This scenario is of particular concern for potential "generation ships".
Generation Ships<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a1e6445c7168d293a6da3f9600f534a2"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/H2f0Wd3zNj0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Many of the most popular apps are about self-improvement.
Emotions are the newest hot commodity, and we can't get enough.