The Swedish Farmers
Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 09:27AM
Plant Positive

Running a Cholesterol Confusionist Gauntlet, Part 1 – Swedish Farmers

As I go through all this material, remember that the confusionists are not saying there are other important risk factors for heart disease in addition to cholesterol. No, they are actually claiming that saturated fat and cholesterol are totally innocent of any connection to heart disease. My prior videos, and especially my Futility of Cholesterol Denialism videos in the current batch, should at a minimum give you enough reason to doubt that high cholesterol is completely benign. Also, consider that in the present day hyper-competitive world of biomedical research, the specialists in cardiovascular disease are not debating the guilt or innocence of saturated fat and cholesterol. This should give you a moment of pause before believing the deniers. While one should not dismiss a contrarian scientific opinion out of hand, plenty of skepticism for it would be justified. I really shouldn’t have had to go through so much material, but I did anyway, just to try to make you completely impervious to these ploys in the future. By the end of this batch of videos, I think I will have convinced any fair-minded person that the lipid hypothesis describes reality pretty well. The counterarguments to it just are not very strong.

Let’s begin our look at Colpo’s very best material with the portion of my videos that caused him to engage me in the first place. In video 41, I took him to task for finding significance in a study of Swedish dairy farmers that gave the impression that the consumption of fruits and vegetables were only associated with lower rates of heart disease if they were accompanied in the diet by high fat dairy products. Colpo apparently felt this strange study supported the title for his post, “Saturated Fat Is Not Associated With Cardiovascular Disease”.

Here is his response to my criticism of his use of this study. His defense is limited to a few trivial ideas. The first is that he didn’t like my use of the word “proof”. OK, it might be true that he didn’t directly say that this study proved anything, if you want to quibble about semantics.

But he did use it as one of only three studies to support his claim here that saturated fat is not associated with heart disease, an idea this study did not really address. More on that in a moment. Since this was how he chose to title his blog, is it not fair to conclude he must believe that this study together with the other two do support this title? Looked at singly or together, they do not. My take on the other studies is coming up, too.

Colpo thinks I should have examined all his many other writings to have the right to criticize his completely dishonest use of this particular study. I’ve seen this defense before from other crackpots. In effect, he is saying that his writings should be studied and understood as a whole like a religious text, as if he were laying out some fully formed, carefully constructed grand vision, before anyone can point out that any single claim he puts forth makes absolutely no sense at all. I see this as an example of special pleading as well as a defensive attempt to change the topic. Colpo wants to change the subject to all his other ramblings because he knows I am right in my criticism of him in this case.

Colpo then compares himself to the first people to understand that the world isn’t flat. Once upon a time, they were on the fringe, just like he is now.

Cranks like Colpo often believe that they have the misfortune of being radically ahead of their time. I’ve shown you how Loren Cordain thinks he is initiating a Copernican Revolution in nutrition. He is on the leading edge of nutrition science in his mind.

Here are a couple of Paleo true believers quoting Gandhi. “First, they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.” These anti-bean trailblazers are sure that with the passage of time, their fad diet will be better appreciated.

It’s too bad for them Gandhi probably never said this.

And it’s too bad for Gandhi his name is being used to promote the fad Paleo diet, as he was a vegetarian of strong conviction.

He was really into that whole nonviolence concept, you know. Maybe those bloggers should contemplate the meaning of ahimsa the next time they are consuming a once-living animal.

Donald Miller fantasizes that the future will play out as depicted in Woody Allen’s comedy, Sleeper. He is sure that in a short 200 years his belief in the goodness of saturated fat will be vindicated.

A crank might cast himself as a modern day Galileo as well. Of all the humans that lived over the last four hundred years, surely Galileo was the one who had the most in common with the crank.

Then there is that ubiquitous Schopenhauer quote: “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” Thanks to this one, cranks can feel assured that their opinions will be seen as totally obvious by future humans. Today’s humans aren’t sufficiently advanced to appreciate them.

So you see, Colpo is just taking part in crank tradition here. The problem with all these fantasies is that they only inform us of the state of mind of the crank, since no one can see into the future, not even Anthony Colpo. Despite the fervent wishes of these dreamers, if their ideas are seen as nonsense during their time, their ideas will likely remain nonsense forever. Colpo and the other cholesterol deniers are likely to join all those fringe-dwellers of the past in oblivion. Guys, if you think this crank tactic is a good trick, try telling some gorgeous woman she should go on a date with you now because in the future you will be a billionaire dictator with an invincible robot army. My guess is that even the most suggestible woman out there won’t buy it and the best reaction you might get is a laugh.  When Colpo tries to suggest that all those brilliant researchers are like flat earthers, he is using the same desperate tactic. Colpo is about as likely to be way out ahead of everyone else as you are to have a robot army one day.

His next defense against me is in the middle of the last paragraph. It’s a riff on the Swedish farmers study authors’ speculation that the fat in the farmers’ milk aided in nutrient absorption, or that the fatty milk gave them key nutrients. Look closely at his choice of words. Notice he is not saying high-fat diets improve nutrient absorption. He is saying higher fat diets. Well, “higher” is a relative term, Mr Colpo. Higher fat than what? Higher than zero fat? Higher than 10% fat? Higher than 20%? What are you saying, exactly? He knows he’s not on firm ground here.

Here you see this speculation from the authors about the dairy fat helping their nutrient absorption.

I wouldn’t be so quick to assume this mattered. We don’t know what the total fat intake of the farmers was. It’s just not in the study. Were some of the farmers on extreme low fat diets? I really doubt it. Also, dairy may blunt the beneficial effects of some foods. Lastly, I am not aware of any research stating that fat-soluble nutrients are absorbed better with saturated fats than other fats. This seems like a very unlikely explanation.

Fat is needed for the absorption of some nutrients, this is true. Studies like this support that view. But notice total saturated fat intake was not revealed in the Swedish farmers study, and the amounts of fat believed to optimize absorption really aren’t very much. Colpo’s claim is weakly supported, and that’s being generous.

Here are the three authors of Colpo’s study of Swedish farmers: Holmberg, Thelin, and Stiernstrom. Are they leading researchers in the study of diet and heart disease?

These are search results for the lead author’s name along with her affiliated institution. I see papers on knee injuries, low back pain, arthritis, and more back pain. You get the idea. Not much here on heart disease or nutrition.

Here’s another of the authors. I see back pain, joint problems, arthritis, aortic aneurism – that’s a little closer to our topic.

Here’s the third author. This looks like a diverse collection of work. What you’ll notice is that they have all published together using data from these Swedish farmers. Frankly, it seems to me they had been studying this cohort of farmers for a variety of issues and they decided to extract some data to put together an agenda-driven and poorly conceived paper on the topic of dairy fat.

If they knew what they were doing, why didn’t they mention lipid lowering drugs in this unhealthy, older population?

If they were not pursuing an agenda, why did they reference someone who clearly does have one, someone who is not taken seriously by specialists in heart disease? By the way, Mr Colpo, I talked about Ravnskov already in other videos which you didn’t watch.

These authors also suggest that a nutritional factor at play here is some special effect of fats, and they base this speculation of theirs on the qualities of the Mediterranean diet. Think about it, Mr Colpo. The Mediterranean diet. You think this study is going to help you? You see the reference they are using, number 11.

Here is that reference. The Mediterranean diet described in this paper consists of less milk, not more. This is the opposite of the impression your study gives. More cheese was eaten, however.

Yet this study didn’t look at cheese at all.

Let’s think about the Mediterranean diet. Also in the original post of Colpo was another study, which I’ll discuss soon. Although you can’t see it here, reference one was coauthored by someone named Frank B Hu.

In Dr Hu’s prior writing about the Mediterranean diet, he didn’t seem to think a recent trend toward increased consumption of saturated fat in the Mediterranean countries represented an improvement in their nutrition.

It’s surprising that the authors of this Swedish pro-dairy fat study that Colpo thinks is so valuable would reference the Mediterranean diet, which was first described by Ancel Keys. Yes, the same Ancel Keys who helped the world understand how harmful saturated fats are, including dairy fats.

As a reminder, Colpo thinks Keys followed an “idiotic agenda”, as he says, and he bases this belief upon an incorrect account of history that he mindlessly parrots.

Before I move on from this study, remember for a moment how long Colpo’s response to me was. He used a lot of words. He had no lack of space to respond to my specific criticisms of his use of this study. Therefore, I find it interesting that despite all his verbosity, and despite all his sarcasm and scorn, and despite all his arrogance, he completely avoided responding to my specific criticisms.  Maybe he was too angry and emotional to think straight. Therefore, I’ll try to help him face the actual questions I raised.

To be left out of this study a farmer had to have been actually hospitalized with heart disease.  So if you had a history of heart disease in your family, or if you had high cholesterol and were put on statins, or if your heart disease had not yet put you in the hospital, you would be put in this study's cohort anyway.

As you can see, statins are not mentioned in this study, nor are any other lipid-lowering drugs.  This study lacks basic and necessary information, so it should be viewed with skepticism.

So these men did worse if they used lower fat dairy products.  Are we to assume that the people opting for lower fat intake always ate lower fat over their whole lives?  Don't you think the people told by their doctors that they were at risk for heart disease might be the same ones who disproportionately chose to eat less saturated fat?  No adjustment is made for something so obvious. 

Here’s something else that’s strange.  Saturated fat was looked at in detail for dairy, but no other sources of saturated fat, beside fish, were mentioned.  Therefore, if someone preferred skim milk but ate many more high-saturated fat meats than the rest, eating bacon and burgers and liver every day, they would fall in the low dairy fat segment of this study anyway. 

Here is some of the text that I read. The subjects of the study could have had poor risk factors to begin with. Cholesterol-lowering medications were not considered. We don’t know why some farmers were consuming low fat dairy or for how long prior to the study’s conclusion. We don’t know about the other sources of saturated fat in their diets. Colpo addresses none of this. He ignored all this but he found the space to insult me at length. I’ll take that to mean either he did not think of these issues or he chose not to mention them because of his irresponsible agenda to spread misinformation.

In that original blog post of Colpo’s is another study, number one here, and he references it again in his angry blog about me. I’ll look at that next.

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