Why good research on nutrition is so hard to find

In my view, the majority of medical and nutritional studies conducted in the U.S. are pretty sloppy. (I touched on this in Tuesday’s Daily Dispatch.) Even those published in serious medical journals. And John Ioannidis, professor of medicine at Stanford University, wholeheartedly agrees.

In fact, back in 2005, he published a paper entitled, “Why most published research findings are false.”

Since then, he says, only limited progress has been made.

Of course, some journals now insist authors pre-register their research protocol and supply their raw data. This requirement makes it harder for researchers to manipulate findings in order to reach a pre-determined conclusion.

It also allows others to verify or replicate their studies.

Indeed, with any well-designed study, you should be able to replicate the results by using the same materials and following the same methods. That’s why scientific studies always include a major, detailed section on “Materials and Methods.” Everything you need to know to repeat the study yourself.

But in a large 2015 analysis, only one-third of the 100 studies published in top medical journals could be successfully replicated.

Yet these poorly designed studies are used to justify just about everything — from new treatments…to FDA approval…to new public policy.

Poor training strikes again

Professor Ioannidis says part of the problem stems from poor training…

He says, “Across biomedical science and beyond, scientists do not get trained sufficiently on statistics and on methodology. Diet is one of the most horrible areas of biomedical investigation.”

So, not only do doctors receive inadequate training on diet and nutrition. They also receive inadequate training on research methodology and statistics, with especially poor research methodology specifically on diet!

Research methodology for nutritional studies is particularly abysmal…

In fact, at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), they’ve handed their nutritional research program over to Ph.D. statisticians who know nothing about health, medicine, nor human biology, diet, growth, and development.

In fact, for many nutritional studies, they ask people what they remember eating over the past 24 hours or longer. Sometimes, they even have people write down what they ate over the past day.

But these food frequency questionnaires and dietary diaries are notoriously inaccurate — due to the participants forgetting, not divulging everything, or knowing what faulty government recommendations are telling them to do, and not wanting to tell the whole truth, etc.

As a result, the studies that use these flawed methods completely fail. In fact, it’s a wonder if they find anything useful at all. When rare studies are done comparing what people say they eat versus the actual evidence found in their food garbage, the dietary data is always shown to be way off the mark.

Fortunately, we have much better, more scientific ways to assess nutritional intake and nutritional status.

But mainstream medicine refuses to use them…

Inmates running the asylum

During my years as a medical research investigator on Diet and Cancer Prevention at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), I brought in real experts on human diet and nutrition.

They offered education and training to NCI scientists on how to perform proper, scientific dietary assessments.

But the NCI maintained a studied ignorance of these approaches. (Apparently, ignorance is the only thing they studied.)

And when opportunities arose to hire new scientists, the NCI statisticians in charge just hired more statisticians (surprise!), compounding their errors, rather than bringing in the real nutritional scientists who applied.

Without a doubt, researchers feel pressure to produce “new findings” for the insatiable appetites of scientific journals and mainstream media. So, they slap together poorly designed studies, using poor methods to continue their steady stream of garbage. (Actual studies on garbage would be better.)

I know it’s hard to believe, but the problems of government research on diet and nutrition don’t just stem from conflicts of interest with big food and big pharma. They also stem from just plain ignorance.

No wonder government dietary recommendations have been so wrong this whole time.

But don’t you be fooled…

Keep following my Daily Dispatch and Insiders’ Cures newsletter. I’ll continue to parse out the solid research from the solid wastes of your time. (If you’re not yet a newsletter subscriber, no worries. All it takes is just one click.)


“Researcher: Beware Scientific Studies — Most Are Wrong,” Newsmax (www.newsmax.com) 7/8/2018