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Zareer Patell

Xylitol, a plant based sugar alcohol hitherto believed to be the safest sugar substitute has now turned out to be a badass for the heart and the brain according to a new study.

Latest Mayo clinic study reveals a startling connection between energy drinks and sudden cardiac arrests.

Drinking coffee is the way to longevity vs coffee leading to high cholesterol and coronary heart disease.

Yet another study comes out to say that diet soda can cause early death.

What the heck’s the matter? Who are these people who churn out such contradictory and worrisome reports that are circulating in large numbers in the media that leave us perplexed and frustrated – if not angry, to say the least? Read on to understand the crux of the matter.

Actually, most of these reports are derived from “Observational Studies” on nutrition, based on the premise that anything artificial is bad – anything which comes out of a lab and gets into your body cannot be good.

This is how it all begins. Scientists need to make publications to keep their jobs. They need funding to survive and they need to publish to get funded. Even as a junior faculty member or a postdoctoral fellow, you need to publish papers (“research”) – more publications, the better for you.

So, some of them take the easier route – the “nutritional studies” because “food” has become a hot topic of discussion in this century. The easiest way to publish is to take a large amount of data and make an analysis showing a correlation between some factors and outcome. This kind of research is rampant nowadays because you can actually navigate the outcome (results) the way you want it to be – changing the variables.

At this point the news media enters the fray in a bid to also survive (if you didn’t know). People like to hear and watch stories on food and health all the time – how diet sodas will affect your health and how artificial sweeteners can kill you from cancer – and how the feel-good stories of lemon tea will make your skin glow with youth, etc, etc;

Most prestigious universities increase their data base by adding newer data sets by attracting more researchers and eventually more funding too. They also give more attention to the media to access more researchers and coverage.

At the center of all this we still don’t understand the limitations of “observational studies” – no matter how many times we stress the difference between correlation and causation, people still look at the increased risk and determine that it’s ‘this risk that is causing the bad outcome.

Meaning: Observational studies, largely can only tell us if two things are related with one another, but not one to be blamed for the other.

Humans consume thousands of chemical combinations daily. Observational studies still cannot tell us what really causes the problem. It’s only a matter of probability! That is, they can only tell us about relative risk and not absolute risk. The key word here is “moderation”. Anything in excess can be poisonous.

So, relax and don’t get stressed next time you hear or read such things. A contradiction may be in the works through another “Study”.

Zareer Patell – Blackbelt, Fitness / Personal Trainer, Consultant on Call and Wellness Columnist (since 1972).

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The fabled fountain of youth has become a reality. Centuries ago, Ponce de Leon went chasing after it & started a trend that exists to this day. The waters of the Bahamas & Florida that de Leon believed could restore health & youth – although nice to swim in – didn’t quite cut it. You can also forget about finding the answer on some mountaintop.

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