Eat and Enjoy that slab of Bacon!

Subject: 
Eat and Enjoy that slab of Bacon!
Posted By: 
Nevyn
Date: 
Wednesday, February 08, 2006 03:47 am

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Snip

February 7, 2006
Study Finds Low-Fat Diet Won\'t Stop Cancer or Heart Disease
By GINA KOLATA

The largest study ever to ask whether a low-fat diet reduces the risk of getting cancer or heart disease has found that the diet has no effect.

The $415 million federal study involved nearly 49,000 women ages 50 to 79 who were followed for eight years. In the end, those assigned to a low-fat diet had the same rates of breast cancer, colon cancer, heart attacks and strokes as those who ate whatever they pleased, researchers are reporting today.

\"These studies are revolutionary,\" said Dr. Jules Hirsch, physician in chief emeritus at Rockefeller University in New York City, who has spent a lifetime studying the effects of diets on weight and health. \"They should put a stop to this era of thinking that we have all the information we need to change the whole national diet and make everybody healthy.\"

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The results, the study investigators agreed, do not justify recommending low-fat diets to the public to reduce their heart disease and cancer risk. Given the lack of benefit found in the study, many medical researchers said that the best dietary advice, for now, was to follow federal guidelines for healthy eating, with less saturated and trans fats, more grains, and more fruits and vegetables.

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\"We are not going to reverse any of the chronic diseases in this country by changing the composition of the diet,\" Dr. Howard said. \"People are always thinking it\'s what they ate. They are not looking at how much they ate or that they smoke or that they are sedentary.\"

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Others cautioned against being too certain that a particular diet would markedly improve health, and said that whether someone developed a chronic disease might not be entirely under their control — genetics also plays a role.

David A. Freedman, a statistician at the University of California, Berkeley, who is not connected with the study but has written books on the design and analysis of clinical trials, said the results should be taken seriously.

\"The studies were well designed,\" Dr. Freedman said, \"and the investigators tried to confirm popular hypotheses about the protective effect of diet against three major diseases in women.\"

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In this case, the study addressed a tricky problem. For decades, many scientists have said, and many members of the public have believed, that what people eat — the composition of the diet — determines how likely they are to get a chronic disease. But that has been hard to prove. Studies of dietary fiber and colon cancer failed to find that fiber was protective, and studies of vitamins thought to protect against cancer failed to show an effect.

The study found that women who were randomly assigned to follow a low-fat diet ate significantly less fat over the next eight years. But they had just as much breast and colon cancer and just as much heart disease. The women were not trying to lose weight, and their weights remained fairly steady. But their experiences with the diets allowed researchers to question some popular notions about diet and obesity.

There is a common belief that Americans get fat because they eat too many carbohydrates. The idea is that a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet leads to weight gain, higher insulin and blood glucose levels, and more diabetes, even if the calories are the same as in a higher-fat diet. That did not happen here.

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As for heart disease risk factors, the only one affected was LDL cholesterol, which increases heart disease risk. The levels were slightly higher in women eating the higher-fat diet, but not high enough to make a noticeable difference in their risk of heart disease.

Although all the study participants were women, the colon cancer and heart disease results should also apply to men, said Dr. Jacques Rossouw, the project officer for the Women\'s Health Initiative.

The most recent study follows a smaller one, reported last year, on low-fat diets for women who had breast cancer. That study hinted that eating less fat might help prevent a recurrence. But the current study, asking if a low-fat diet could protect women from breast cancer in the first place, had findings that fell short of statistical significance, meaning they could have occurred by chance.

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While cancer researchers said they were disappointed by the results, heart disease researchers said they were not surprised that simply reducing total fat had no effect, because they had moved on from that hypothesis.

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\"If a physician told a patient to eat less fat, that will do nothing,\" he said. \"If you send someone to a dietitian one time, that will do next to nothing.\" The women in the study had 18 sessions in small groups with a trained nutritionist in the first year and four sessions a year after that.

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\"What we are saying is that a modest reduction of fat and a substitution with fruits and vegetables did not do anything for heart disease and stroke or breast cancer or colorectal cancer,\" said Dr. Nanette K. Wenger, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. \"It doesn\'t say that this diet is not beneficial.\"

But Dr. Freedman, the Berkeley statistician, said the overall lesson was clear.

\"We, in the scientific community, often give strong advice based on flimsy evidence,\" he said. \"That\'s why we have to do experiments.\"