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The Problem with Scientific Research (as a guide to your health)

Feb 07, 2019

If you feel confused about what to do... and what to eat... and what to believe... and where to turn... for your health, there’s very good reason.

I was listening to two prominent health practitioners (a Naturopath and a Functional Medicine Doctor) on a podcast over the weekend. As I imagined the multitudes of other listeners - and what they would take away from the conversation as advice - 

I was delighted (great to have such quality information being shared) 

and horrified (ineffective to have so much assumption lumped into their ‘scientific findings’).

These two professionals, 

self-proclaimed scientific researchers who profess to debunk ‘all of the pseudoscience’ in the health industry, 

spent equal time highlighting the results of their meta-analyses regarding certain topics in health 

while speaking in vague generalities about other topics (topics they apparently hadn’t studied yet but seemed to have developed personal opinions about... they never mentioned this to their listeners... which is very misleading due to the number of times they remind listeners they only share evidenced-based information).

I suppose ‘evidenced-based’ is a relative term. 

Based on what evidence? Their personal experience? Scientific inquiry? 

Really, it doesn’t matter. 

Because the truth is, even the best scientific research leaves room for doubt... it’s supposed to.

Did you know researchers are still trying to debunk Einstein’s Theory of Relativity?

The Scientific Method begs us to prove a theory WRONG. In making this attempt, and failing, it actually strengthens the theory. So the more times researchers attempt to prove Einstein wrong, and fail, the more trust they have in said theory.

What This Has to Do With YOU and Your Health

Most information being shared (and regurgitated) - about your health - is based, AT BEST, in theory (so... it’s still being researched as we speak... and there IS NOT conclusive evidence, yet)

Keto? Plant based? Mediterranean? Raw? Nutritarian? All theories. 

We haven’t been around long enough - in our evidenced-based, peer reviewed, double blind culture - to prove any of these as law.

Think about it this way.

The anatomy of the human being has been studied for centuries. It’s been long thought that we had every bone, muscle, gland, and organ mapped.

Yet, in 2016... just 2 and a half years ago... a 5th quadricep (muscle in the leg) was discovered. We were SO certain there were only 4, they were collectively named the QUADriceps. 

Or how about this.

Many claims are made about certain foods that will CAUSE CANCER... or KEEP IT AT BAY. The truth? There is NO conclusive evidence that a specific food with do either. 

I can’t make this stuff up.

The homepage of the Nutritional Science Initiative clearly states “beliefs about nutrition are based on very little scientific evidence.” Their GOAL is to obtain conclusive evidence in the next decade. (Kinda surprising since so many health gurus out there seem to claim to know the truth.)

I wonder if it’s even necessary.

In fact, a meta-analysis of nutrition by Katz and Meller of Yale University School of Public Health and Medicine respectively 

(Meta-analysis = a study of studies... touted as the ‘end all’ of scientific research... yet also under scrutiny)

found that diets comprised, mostly, of minimally process foods, plants, and plant fed animal food sources, is best for health.

Did we really need a scientific study to prove that to us?

I don’t think so. Doesn’t common sense and a bit of your own intuition lead you to the same conclusion?

Rant over.

Let’s get practical:

  • Understand that science is consistently seeking statistical significance... the likelihood that whatever is attempted to be proven is NOT due to random chance (Let’s use a trendy example: attempting to prove that administering a low-carb diet will result in improved metabolic function and this would be a reliable result across the population). Even if there were statistical significance, this does not account for the outliers. I like to think, instead, in terms of HUMAN significance. And as I know you already know, what works for one doesn’t always work for another. There. Is. No. One. Size. Fits. All.

  • Do not let scientific research lead the way. This isn’t to say scientific research is bad or unhelpful, it just shouldn’t be relied on as the ONLY source of guidance on your path. It’s helpful to include an understanding of human physiology, common sense, and personal experience.

  • Embrace the power of the mind-body connection. With emotional attachment to foods we know don’t serve us well, we don’t need a study to tell us to not eat that food, we need practices that systematically help us break the attachment. This is not an intellectual process.

  • Think of health as a PRACTICE rather than a body of knowledge.

  • Do whatever it takes to return to trusting yourself and your body. The truth is, you’re an experiment of one. You’ll get the best information an guidance from your willingness to listen.
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