Renowned Integrative Physician Dr. Ronald Hoffman Calls Out Five Recent Health Stories as Misleading

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In his latest article, pioneering integrative physician Dr. Ronald Hoffman details major inaccuracies in five recent health stories.

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Dr. Ronald Hoffman

“News stories on diet and health are so misleading these days,” says Dr. Hoffman.

In his latest article, “Click bait health reporting: I’m calling BS on these 5 health stories,” renowned Integrative Physician Dr. Ronald Hoffman calls out health writers who provide dumbed down – or outright wrong – headline news.

“News stories on diet and health are so misleading these days,” says Dr. Hoffman. “In an effort to gin up circulation, health writers are constantly searching for bizarre new angles on health stories, often jumping to unwarranted conclusions to ensnare readers.”

Here are five recent health stories where Dr. Hoffman corrects the record:

1. Sitting is the New Smoking. A couple of years ago stories began to appear with this catchy lead, which rapidly became a popular meme. The research suggested that sitting, per se—even if you had an active lifestyle—could undermine one's cardiovascular health, increase your risk for diabetes and cancer, and lead to a premature death.

Sales of standing desks skyrocketed, and even the Apple Watch incorporated a feature to remind people to get up and walk around every 1/2 hr. Water cooler conversations suddenly earned the status of mandatory health breaks. This even translated to a recommendation by the American Academy of Family Physicians in a January 27 article that people break up long periods of sitting.

The truth according to Dr. Hoffman: Not enough research. Most of the researchers acknowledge that, despite the evidence, there is need for a prospective clinical trial, dividing comparable people into two groups: prolonged sitters and sitters who regularly get up to move around. This would have to take place over a period of many years, perhaps decades, to yield a definitive answer. Obviously, difficult and expensive to do.

It goes without saying, of course, if sitting is part of an overall sedentary lifestyle, it will undermine one's health; but a person may not need to get up and down at regular intervals like a jumping jack in order to cheat the Grim Reaper.

2. The Cat Made Me Do It. On March 24 an article appeared in the Tech Times that detailed an association between exposure to toxoplasmosis, a cat-borne disease, and Intermittent Explosive Disorder (whose acronym, appropriately, is IED).

This is a bona fide psychiatric disorder, said to be suffered from by 16 million Americans. It is characterized by sudden, unpredictable outbursts of aggressive or violent behavior. The researchers studied 358 adults with IED and found that they were twice as likely to have been exposed to the parasite.

The truth according to Dr. Hoffman: The chain of causation, however, is weak here. Since an estimated 30 percent of adults—with or without cats—show traces of exposure to toxoplasmosis, it's unlikely that very many people "catch" road rage from their pets. IED is likely the result of a combination of factors ranging from genetics, to parental influences, to toxic exposures to substances like lead, or even lack of essential fatty acids.

3. Vegetarian Diet May Increase Risk for Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer in Subsequent Generations according to a March 29 article in The Telegraph. The truth according to Dr. Hoffman: Actually, it's not quite so simple. This research supports the power of epigenetics—the shaping of gene expression by environmental factors. The effects can be transgenerational. For example, we know that starvation—say, for example in Holocaust survivors—predisposes children and even grandchildren to obesity and diabetes via activation of a "thrifty gene" that hoards calories and stores them efficiently as fat as a hedge against future famine.

In the vegetarian diet story, it turns out that a diet restricted in EPA/DHA from animal sources of Omega 3 oils amp up a metabolic pathway that converts plant Omega 3 precursors to body-ready EPA and DHA. But the same metabolic pathway accelerates conversion of dietary linoleic acid (an Omega 6 oil plentiful in nuts, seeds and vegetable oils) to pro-inflammatory arachidonic acid.

Even if one is a committed vegan, the potential DNA hit can be forestalled by avoiding excess polyunsaturated vegetable oil, and by taking either a fish oil supplement or DHA-rich Omega 3 product derived from algae.

Incidentally, the gene modification proposed by scientists in this article is purely theoretical, and not confirmed by multi-generational studies in humans, which would be pretty near impossible to do anyway.

4. Sauerkraut Can Cure Shyness according to a June 9, 2015 article in the Science Daily. College of William and Mary psychologists polled students on their dietary habits and then assessed their degree of social anxiety via a questionnaire. They discovered a correlation between consumption of fermented foods and relative freedom from worries over social interaction.

How is this plausible? Animal research has revealed a relationship between the microbiome--the bacterial composition of the GI tract—and behavior. It's been hypothesized that there's a gut-brain connection, and that "happy" bacteria promote stable moods.

The truth according to Dr. Hoffman: The hypothesis is tantalizing, but remember this is simply a survey, subject to recall bias, and correlation isn't causation. It may just be that people who eat sauerkraut are more emotionally balanced and open to new experiences to begin with.

Additionally, concerns have been raised that the diagnosis of "social anxiety"—formerly known as run-of-the-mill shyness—has been hyped by the pharmaceutical industry to juice sales of SSRI anti-depressants. Critics believe that we've pathologized a normal personality trait—introversion—to sell more drugs.

5. Maple Syrup is a Cure for Alzheimer's. Fox News published an article on March 15 headlined "Maple syrup isn't just delicious, it could also cure Alzheimer's disease."

The claim is that maple syrup contains a phenolic compound—similar to resveratrol in red wine—that prevents mis-folding of proteins in the brain which produce the neurofibrillary tangles characteristic of Alzheimer's.

The truth according to Dr. Hoffman: Whether or not this preliminary research pans out, it's not a license to guzzle maple syrup, while natural, delivers a massive hit of sugar to the brain. This would incrementally raise chances of developing what has been termed "Type 3 diabetes," a form of insulin resistance in which the brain no longer efficiently utilizes glucose as a fuel and suffers energy brownouts.

Besides, sugar is highly pro-inflammatory. So maple syrup—much of which is actually not true maple syrup, but artificially-flavored and colored high-fructose corn syrup—is definitely not a brain elixir.

Full detail on each of these five stories can be found in the article at the Intelligent Medicine website.
Dr. Ronald Hoffman is a pioneering complementary medicine practitioner, Director of the Hoffman Center for Integrative Medicine based in New York City, and host of the popular and long running syndicated weekly radio program and podcast, “Intelligent Medicine.”

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