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.