Harvard needs its wrists slapped after a new study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, asserts that eating red meat raises the risk of death, when the study is based on sham science.
Flawed from the start
The article, titled Red Meat Consumption and Mortality, (1) features several researchers from Harvard University who used statistics from old studies that followed the health habits of more than 121,000 people for more than 20 years. Two thirds of the participants were female nurses.
I have put the word participants in italics because these people did not participate in this study. Details of their health, (possibly inaccurate) nutritional records, lifespan, and death were fed into a statistical computer program and manipulated to get the following result:
"One daily serving of unprocessed red meat (about the size of a deck of cards) was associated with a 13% increased risk of mortality, and one daily serving of processed red meat (one hot dog or two slices of bacon) was associated with a 20% increased risk. (2) The authors add that eating fish, nuts, poulty, legumes, and nuts instead of red meat may reduce the risk of death by hamburger.
Results are almost meaningless
By having more than 83,000 caucasian, women nurses as participants, this study fails to represent a balanced cross-section of the general population in several ways. This makes its assertions biased and ungeneralizable to you and I, the public.
Death by hamburger - Really?
Nearly 24,000 people of those followed died, 5910 of whom due to cardiovascular diseases, and 9464 because of cancer. None of the death certificates will say that any of these people died because they ate too much red meat. So how did the researchers claim that eating red meat would increase the risk of cancer?
Lies, damn lies, and statistics
Before we answer that question, let's get one thing straight. We each have a 100% probability of dying. No matter what statistics say - it's going to happen. We're all going to die. How quickly and how comfortably is, however a different topic.
What's more important is that we each live a high quality, functional life for as long as we can. To say that eating processed red meat increases the likelihood of death by 20% is a joke when death is 100% likely. Do you get it? Do you see the utter uselessness of this kind of research?
All the researchers have done is to manipulate statistics to play down all of the other causes of cancer and attempted to say that just eating red meat increases the risk of death. This is the state of science, it's a game to keep people in their jobs, and this research probably cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to spew out.
I'm genuinely sorry for the British sarcasm, and thank you for following me so far. I am just breath-taken by the low-quality studies that passes for science nowadays. More importantly, people like you and I are fed this information by journalists who don't understand what they're writing about and fail to question the material's validity. Misinformation like this becomes yet another headline on pages of half-truths and spin, and people swallow it, just like their juicy hamburgers and ribs.
Cancer is caused by a multitude of factors, all acting together, some affecting some people, but not others. Cancer is influenced by:
- The quality of the food you eat;
- How much sleep you get;
- The genes you inherit;
- How much exercise you partake in;
- The purity of the water you drink;
- Whether you let go of emotional stresses or hold onto them;
- The type of medications you take;
- Electromagnetic radiation from electronic equipment in your home, car, and work environment.
- And at least a dozen other things.
My point is that it is impossible to determine that one daily serving of processed red meat is associated with a 20% increased risk of death (2) because these numbers are a statistical manipulation. They fail to capture the individual variations in the factors that led to each of the 24,000 deaths.
The correlation lie
In this, and so many other studies, the researchers have used correlation statistics. Do you remember the phrase from school Correlation does not imply causality? That means that any research using the words 'association' and 'correlation' are unable to prove anything. Research, like this one, relies on correlation. The researchers have not caused anything to happen. They've not tested anything. No-one has been deliberately fed hamburger, fish, chicken, nuts, or legumes for 20 or so years to see what happened.
This research is about spinning numbers through a computer program, and so the Harvard researchers have proved nothing.
The REAL issues
There are two issues here:
- PROCESSED MEAT, especially PROCESSED RED MEAT contains chemicals the human body doesn't appreciate ingesting.
- Consumption of organic, unprocessed red meat has yet to been associated with increased risk of death (to use the researchers' term), and is more nutritious to the human body than poor quality meat sold in most grocery stores and restaurants. Eat organic and grass-fed red meat (and fish, nuts, legumes, and poultry too!)
Question the headlines you read, and look up the original study online before making health decisions, or telling other people about what you read. Be smart, do you own investigation and prevent yourself from swallowing useless information.
1 Pan, A. et al. (2012). Red meat consumption and mortality. Archives of Internal Medicine. Downloaded 3/13/2012 from: http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/reprint/archinternmed.2011.2287
2 Eurekalert.org: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-03/hsop-rmc030812.php