My, my, my… is it just me or are we seeing even more nutritional bullshit dressed up as science flooding the trusted health journalism portals?
I’ve tried to ignore the preposterous self-appointed nutritional experts who give health “advice” to what they must honestly believe is an audience of toddlers; but I simply can’t sit here and watch modern day snake-oil salesman purport to be health professionals without getting riled up.
So what is it that’s getting me all wound up this time?
SALT. On the 10th to 16th March the Heart and Stroke Foundation (HSF) are running Salt Awareness Week. Why? Because according to Dr Mungal-Singh of the HSF, “many South Africans know that too much salt is not good for them but they don’t know that it is actually killing them!” Really? Apparently the “link between salt and high blood pressure is well-documented”; which means the HSF and the good doctor must be basing their assertions on fact. On real evidence; perhaps on the results of real clinical trials. Ok… we’ll get back to the actual evidence shortly.
This is important for two reasons. 1. Lives are at stake. 2. Public Health Resources are Scarce.
Firstly, a recent article entitled “Too Much Salt Can Kill You” recently stated that “By lowering salt intake in South Africa an estimated 4300 non-fatal strokes can be prevented, which amounts to a total annual saving of R300 million.” What self-respecting journalist would write such a declarative statement like that on a public platform, one that directly speaks to the public about their personal health choices without referencing the source? In any event, if this is true (and I’ll show you why it’s not) then spending just 10% of that (R30 million) on a public health campaign to reduce salt intake would seem like a good way to spend tax payers’ money! This is exactly what the HSF are planning on doing with Salt Awareness Week! Hooray! In fact the HSF was recently mandated to conduct a public awareness and education campaign by the Department of Health….ah politics & money now enter the fray!
As an aside, 300m divided by 4300 works out to about R70,000 per non-fatal stroke – don’t know about you but I think a stroke probably costs society much more than that, I could be wrong; I digress.
Secondly, apparently South Africa’s Health Minister recently signed legislation enforcing the reduction of salt levels in certain foodstuffs; making South Africa the first to legislate salt levels in processed foods. Now the salt debate is no longer - it is now going to be enforced legislatively. A politician has decided that we all need to eat less salt. Granted, said politician is a medical doctor, so he too must have looked at the evidence before he decided that our salt consumption was too high.
There’s only one problem….. it’s all Grass-Fed, Free-Range, Organic Bullsh..t
Science in 2014 is much more precise than the science of just 10 years ago. Today’s studies are far more conclusive about cause and effect in human nutrition; in fact they are far more conclusive in disproving purported cause and effect. Nearly all of the absolute nonsense that forms the Nutritional Establishment’s Dogma is based on what is called Observed Correlational Studies. This means, that if Japanese people eat lots of salt and Japanese people have high blood pressure, then ipso facto, salt causes high blood pressure. Let’s ignore the million other confounding variables that may cause high pressure such as genetics, stress, environmental factors, social conformity, your neighbour’s nymphomaniac wife……. It’s classic Ancel Keys-style correlation equals nutritional fact bullshit…. and it forms the basis of an entire industry so out of touch with reality they genuinely believe their own Grass-Fed, Free-Range, Organic Bullsh…
Why does it matter? The HSF and the Department of Health are telling us to eat less salt? What could be so bad about that? Even if we save just one life, it will be worth it!
Health messages – especially public health messaging funded by tax payers’ money – should be based on evidence; not opinion. A 2006 American Journal of Medicine study found that over the course of a 14-year study (with millions of participants) that the more sodium people ate, the less likely they were to die from heart disease! (Sodium chloride is salt). Now that finding could be entirely coincidental – ok eat more salt and you might reduce your chance of heart disease, maybe, who know? But it does NOT support the “Less Salt is Good for You” hypothesis (upon which we have chosen to base our public health policy).
The Cochrane Collaboration – an international, independent and non-profit health care research organisation; arguably the most credible source of real clinical evidence in existence – and I guarantee a more authoritative source than the single study trials funded by industry (just look for studies funded by margarine companies as an example) - have reviewed multiple randomized-controlled salt trials and concluded that “there is little evidence for long-term benefit from reducing salt intake”.
Why would a 2007 study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology (1500 participants over 5 years) find NO association between salt intake and the risk of coronary vascular disease or death? Why does a 1987 study in the Journal of Chronic Diseases report that the number of people that experience a drop in blood pressure after eating high-salt diets almost equals those who experience an increase? (I accept that a drop is not as much of health concern as an increase – but that’s no basis for accepting a hypothesis).
If reducing salt, will lead to lives being saved then I support any campaign to reduce salt in our diets – legislative or otherwise. But to say now that if we reduce our salt consumption, we’ll save 4300 non-fatal strokes and presumably hundreds of fatal ones too, is simply nonsense. It’s an untested hypothesis to which we can never know the answer; hardly the basis on which to formulate an actual public health policy response.
So you see it does matter – it’s not about salt. It’s about how bullsh!t trumps science!
We give people hope when we say – “Cut your salt, increase your life expectancy”. But we also obfuscate other lifestyle factors that may actually be doing them harm. “Look Mum, I’m not having any salt on my ‘refined-carb’ French fries anymore! Aren’t I healthy?” “Yes dear, as long as you do a little bit of what the Heart and Stroke Foundation says, you’ll be just fine….” Are you serious?
We divert our public health resources from real issues such as the rampant obesity epidemic – and the billions that actually and measurably costs society – by focusing on something that has not been proved conclusively. We take tax payers’ money that could be spent on other more pressing health needs and spend it on Grass-Fed, Free-Range, Organic Bullsh… on stuff some of the best scientists in the world are telling us won’t make a difference.
Are we in danger of letting the whims of tired dogma guide our health choices? Do the health professionals that tell us what we should and should not eat really believe we are that stupid? I could not help but reflect on how the good Dr Mungal-Singh of the HSF apparently didactically reassured us (in the article mentioned above) that when we cut our salt consumption, “in time the body will adjust and eating a healthy low-salt diet will become much less of a chore – and will actually become a pleasure instead” – so not only does the good doctor feel he should reassure me I will be healthier for listening to him, he thinks it’s his place to tell me I will eventually enjoy my food more? I beg your pardon? WTF? How could he possibly know that?
If that doesn’t sum up the subjectivity and arrogance of the current “I’m a Nutritional Expert” establishment – then pray tell, what in f.…k’s name does?
Check out “It’s Time to End the War on Salt” by Melinda Wenner Moyer for a far better explanation than mine.