Pulling Together the Threads of the Women’s Health Initiative

I have been blogging about the Women’s Health initiative as the results on low-fat diets and calcium supplements have been released. These studies have shown that some highly recommended life style interventions do not show signifcant health benefits. Today the was a nice article in the Washington Post trying to explain how these results could occur.

The short summary is that it is hard to study people. The women who were trying to limit fat did not succeed in reaching the goal that the study had set, and the control group actually did reduce their fat intake some, so the difference in fat intake between the groups was smaller than planned. The same thing happened with the calcium supplements. The control group took some supplements and some even took other medications to prevent osteoporosis. Neither the group behaved exactly the way that the studies authors planned. So the conclusions are not as definitively bad as feared, so a reduction of fraction of calories from fat in the diet to 15% might really help, but we probably do not know how to achieve that.

I have been obsessing some on this topic, because I fear that if people do not understand the relationship between science and medicine, they may tune out doctors on the occasions when they are completely right. Doctors use the best science that they have available, but they do not always have scientically proven answers to all their questions. The germ theory of disease is true. Antibiotics work. Bacteria cause ulcers, not stress. Smoking puts you at great risk for lung cancer. HIV causes AIDS.

Is transfat bad for you? Do low-carb diets work? Do cell phones cause brain cancer? The is evidence in all three cases, but it is not yet definitive. I would hedge my bets. I cut down on transfats, but I do not make my self crazy. I try to each a balanced diet without too many carbs, fats, or proteins. I use my cell phone once or twice a day for a few minutes.


3 Responses to “Pulling Together the Threads of the Women’s Health Initiative”

  1. If you look into the actual article that these results are pulled from (regarding the calcium study) you will see that they came from the NE J of Med. You will also see that this study actually used a form of calcium that is difficult to absorb into the body. Since the type of calcium used in the study is not the type usually taken by women as a supplement, this study really doesn’t prove much. Perhaps you should go straight to the journal to read the article and bypass the possibly incorrect summary in the NY times.

  2. I did read the original article on the effect of low-fat diets on cancer. It was freely available on the web, but I could not get access to the others.

    I think that your point does not change my conclusion in the least. The effect of calcium supplements is unproven, so what is the appropriate thing to do. The original recommendation to use them assumed that they could not do harm, but this study showed that they increased the risk of kidney stones.

  3. Greetings

    This is my first post here.
    Maybe off-topic but anyone have views on this?


    Seems out there, but who knows?
    So did the internet 20 years ago, and biotechnology is exploding.

    Do you think this could happen?

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