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How Nutrition Research Is Set Up To Fail


Whole food is great. I am for sure one of the greatest cheerleaders for the benefits of eating food in it’s most whole and unprocessed form. This is where the healing magic from food comes from- the synergistic properties of phytonutrients working together, for our ultimate health benefit,  in ways we will never fully understand.

This doesn’t mean we don’t try to understand. Everyday there is a new study out about some new compound in a food said to resolve the ailment of the moment.

For the past several years, I have been attempting to gain access to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation‘s (CCFC) research team to find out how funds raised in the name of a cure are spent- something I would highly encourage everyone to do before lending financial support to any cause.

I have been continually ignored.

Though the mandate of the CCFC is that diet has no impact on the progression of the diseases for which it raises funds (by selling conventional hot dogs and deep fried twinkies), on the flip side, they recently sent me a PDF document outlining new research being done into diet’s affect on Crohn’s and Colitis. I know- it’s a confusing contradiction.

As for this specific study, at first I thought- At last- progress! and then I read the document.

Why You Must Read This

What I am about to explain is relevant to EVERYONE as I work to empower you to make sense of all the studies, news and media that get thrown at us.

This specific study has secured a $350,000 grant and is set-up for complete failure as too many nutrition studies are.

Why is nutrition research set up to fail?

With any type of scientific study, specifically those that relate to nutrition,  there are so many variables to consider- everything from specific food intake, foods being avoided, sleep quality, exercise, stress management are all going affect how people digest and assimilate nutrients and how they will be used to heal. There is also the issue of previous studies and outcomes to consider. In the case of this specific study on Crohn’s, there is important previous scientific research that is blatantly being ignored.

The Alberta Inflammatory Bowel Disease Consortium, the group supporting this study, are researching the following nutrients- through the consumption of the following foods:

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids (e.g. salmon, lamb, enriched eggs, canola and flaxseed oil)
  • Polyphenolic compounds (e.g. strawberries, saskatoons)
  • Glutamine (e.g. barley, wheat, rye)
  • Short-Chain Glycerides and Branch-Chained Amino Acids (e.g. butter, cheese)
  • Lactobacilli or Bifidibacteria (e.g. yoghurt)
  • Soluble Fermentable Fiber (e.g. pulses, oats, barley)

Where does the problem lie?

The foods themselves, though high in specific nutrients that have been previously proven as beneficial, when taken in therapeutic doses, most often required in the form of high dose supplementation- are being offered in scientifically proven problematic foods.

Yes, Omega 3 fats are helpful for decreasing inflammation and boosting nervous system and immune health, but canola oil is incredibly high in Omega 6- which, in this ratio has been shown to be pro-inflammatory(1). Polyphenolic compounds- also incredibly helpful for stabilizing immune response- should not be consumed in the form of berries. People suffering from intestinal inflammation should be avoiding foods with small seeds- like strawberries due to an increased risk of infection.

L-Glutamine has been associated with healing intestinal tissue- but in barley, wheat and rye- you’ll also be getting a healthy dose of gluten. Also problematic are the dairy based sources of the short chain glycerides, and branch chain amino acids.

If there are two food groups to be avoided by anyone suffering from digestive disease it is dairy and gluten containing grains.

Although food allergy has long been considered an important etiologic factor in the pathogenesis of IBD, it is only recently that studies utilizing an elimination diet in the treatment of IBD have been performed.2-4 These studies demonstrate that an elimination diet is the primary therapy of choice in the treatment of chronic IBD. The most common offending foods were found to be wheat and dairy products. 

Missing The Point

Given the foods being tested, I wouldn’t need the $350,000 to tell you what the outcome will be. My guess is “No significant improvement over the placebo” or something to that extent.

Their outcome is pretty much written right into the report I was sent.

On page 2 of the 3 page document, in bold type it states: “The bottom line, says Dr. Dieleman, is that probiotic/prebiotic therapies have shown to be beneficial for mild to moderate ulcerative colitis when used in combination with standard pharmaceutical therapies under medical supervision.”

So even if the study comes out with diet being on top, they have built in a caveat that no matter what, all treatment options must include medical intervention. Though in many cases, this may be absolutely necessary, the generalization of this statement is forever being proven blatantly false.

I contacted the Alberta Inflammatory Bowel Disease Consortium, but have yet to get a response.

This is just one example of flawed nutrition research- there are many, many more.

Question Of The Day: Do you trust medical research when it comes to the role nutritional therapies play in reversing disease?

1.  Shoda R, Matsueda K, Yamato S, Umeda N. Epidemiologic analysis of Crohn’s disease in Japan. Increased dietary intake of ?-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids and animal protein relates to the increased incidence of Crohn’s disease in Japan. Am J Clin Nutr 1996;63:741-745
2. Borok G, Segal I. Inflammatory bowel disease. Individualized dietary therapy. S Afr Fam Pract 1995;16:393-399.1. Shoda R, Matsueda K, Yamato S, Umeda N. Epidemiologic analysis of Crohn’s disease in Japan. Increased dietary intake of ?-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids and animal protein relates to the increased incidence of Crohn’s disease in Japan. Am J Clin Nutr 1996;63:741-745.
3.  Jones VA, Workman E, Freeman AH, et al. Crohn’s disease: maintenance of remission by diet. Lancet 1985;2:177-180.
4. Shoda R, Matsueda K, Yamato S, Umeda N. Epidemiologic analysis of Crohn’s disease in Japan. Increased dietary intake of ?-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids and animal protein relates to the increased incidence of Crohn’s disease in Japan. Am J Clin Nutr 1996;63:741-745.

8 responses to “How Nutrition Research Is Set Up To Fail”

  1. Danielle says:

    Nutritional research is one of the most difficult disciplines of science to conduct research. There are a billion variables, and you are dealing with human subjects. From my experience, this is sometimes the hardest. It is absolutely impossible to conduct a perfect study where everyone is happy with the study design. The key is to interpret the results in the realm of the hypothesis being tested. Taking a look at the document, we certainly cannot make out the exact study design, and cannot really determine the validity of the work until it is carried out. You are right, by supplementing those foods they would not be studying the nutrients, they are looking at the effect of those foods. But, if I had to guess, they will be monitoring intake levels of the nutrients, and making sure that each group is getting a certain amount of the nutrient…via those foods. They are trying to take a whole foods approach, which is a step forward (even if they didn’t necessarily choose the perfect foods).
    As someone who has conducted health related research, it is kind of hard to read the words you have written here. No science is perfect, that is why we are still doing research. Most scientists understand the limitations of their work and discuss this in their research papers. It is the media who ignores these discussions and makes rash conclusions about the work. Scientists are often doing the best they can with the resources that they have. There is obviously room for improvement (it is science after all), and negativity will not allow the public support that is required for research to continue and to improve. Please don’t lose your faith in medical research :)

    • Meghan Telpner says:

      Of course it is difficult- that’s why we could run 100 studies supposedly the same and each one would have a different outcome. As it relates to this specific one- testing out the value of nutrients while feeding people foods that have been ‘scientifically proven’ to exacerbate the very condition they are seeking to treat, seems futile. Though for an organization that insists diet has no role in a cure, this study, unfortunately, will surely support their mandate.

  2. Jen says:

    I’m not a big fan of medical anything, but I do appreciate Danielle’s comment. However, I question how much medical research we would need if everyone had access to and only ate whole organic foods? I know, I know… get out of my bubble and join the real world.

    • Meghan Telpner says:

      Right- but what if all the funds raised- the millions of dollars, went to help pay for healing foods, and education for the people suffering?

      • Nanda says:

        I couldn’t agree more with your words. A huge portion of the money raised should be for prevention, education than research. I get upset when I see the amount of money that people donate for diabetes.

  3. Marilene says:

    This is a great post because you point out how important it is to dig deeper into what you read. Analyze the study’s motivations, look for bias, ask who is funding the research, look at how the study is conducted. Science is full of flaws because it is always seeking the “truth” despite so much uncertainty. In the scientific community something is not believed to work until a randomized control trial proves it works. While these studies are important, it is also very important to rely on age-old wisdom, instinct and look at what nature provides for us. I’m not sure why we need a rigorous study to say that the food you put in your digestive tract is going to impact your digestive tract—of course it will! The sad thing is that the most respected scientists are those that ignore this intuition and seek only facts through controlled research. Always, always question what you read and ask questions to challenge those “facts” that your healthcare provider assures you are true.

  4. Brigitte VK says:

    After reading the book The Seeds of Deception on GMO Foods ( one of the most important things I took away from the book is; who is funding the research study? Public funds are being cut more and more and industry is stepping in to fill the void – which is great. And the trade off is they get to vet the research that gets published (or delay the publishing altogether) – hardly impartial studies/testing.
    In Meghan’s posted shows a group of doctors receiving $350,000 from Alberta Innovates – Bio Solutions.
    A google search of this name came up with this:
    “June 01, 2012 – Alberta Innovates announces millions in Quality Food for Health grants Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions, along with seven other funding partners, is announcing $5 million in funding for 13 research projects focused on using the power of science towards better food and better health.”
    Next Question – who are the other seven funding partners..?
    Google says ->
    This program brought together the agricultural and health communities in a unique initiative to improve the health and well being of Albertans’ while increasing the competitiveness of the province’s food and agricultural industries. Other funders included Alberta Innovates Health Solutions, Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency, Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund,
    Alberta Pulse Growers Commission, Alberta Canola Producers Commission, Alberta Milk, and Egg Farmers of Alberta. Of the 69 applications, 13 were successful and will receive a combined total of $4.2 million in funding over the next three years.

    Humm…..the results should be interesting…or not.

  5. janet grey says:

    thanks for all of this – it is certainly ‘food’ for thought. as a crohns patient of 34 years, i firmly believe our environment and the food we eat ARE the culprits. while IBD is not ‘genetically transmitted to children, as crohns is, both of my daughters have issues. the oldest 29, suffers from ibd – and her diet is fairly awful. my youngest, 24, who has always had a much better diet and lifestyle – just began having symptoms of crohns about 4 weeks ago, colonoscopy has been done, inflammation found, awaiting biopsy now.

    anyway i dont really have a point, other than to say, nothing comes from a can or box here in our household (well, we try very very hard with that). i have been medication free for 13 years, although still with symptoms, i am able to manage my disease with diet, reducing stress and no form of ‘strenuous’ exercise.

    thanks for listening.

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