Bananas prevent cancer – debunking another myth about food

bananas prevent cancer

I wrote this article over five years, debunking the claim that bananas prevent cancer, and it remains the most popular article I’ve ever written. It probably gets so much traffic because of the ongoing memes about how bananas will cure every cancer known to man. 

Too many individuals see these memes on Twitter and Facebook, then they accept them as scientific facts. They rarely are. That’s why critical thinking is necessary. 

But if a meme is going to make an extraordinary claim, like bananas prevent cancer, then that claim ought to be backed by extraordinary evidence. But this wild belief about bananas is not even supported by ordinary evidence. It is supported by zero evidence.

Continue reading “Bananas prevent cancer – debunking another myth about food”

Ketogenic diet – what does the scientific evidence say about it?

Diet fads seem to test the limits of science since forever. I’m an ancient feathered dinosaur, and I’ve seen it all from the popcorn diet to the South Beach diet to the paleo diet to the ketogenic diet.

I’m sure that the ancient Romans had some diet fad diet that the aristocracy followed to keep themselves healthy – oh wait, the Roman upper class followed the Mediterranean diet, which may be one diet fad that stood the test of time and science.

Outside of the aforementioned Mediterranean diet, which includes whole grains, olive oil, seafood, legumes, and nuts, most of these diets lack robust scientific evidence supporting their usefulness in weight loss or maintaining some unbiased standard of health. But they certainly make a lot of money for those promoting them. It was a US$66 billion market in the USA alone in 2017.  Wait, maybe I should invent the Raptor Diet?

One of the current fads is the ketogenic diet, which is all the rage among those looking to lose weight, improve their health, and, I’m sure, prevent cancer. Before someone thinks it really prevents cancer, it does not. In fact, it may increase the risk of cancer. But that’s another story for another day.

Let’s get into this ketogenic diet fad. Is it supported by any robust, repeated, published evidence? Or, like most diet fads, is it mostly supported by testimony and anecdotes?  Continue reading “Ketogenic diet – what does the scientific evidence say about it?”

Fried food increases cardiovascular mortality risk – sorry KFC

fried foods

As part of my ongoing series of articles that review interesting new studies, this week, I’m going to look at a new study that shows that fried food may be linked to increased risks of death from cardiovascular disease.

Now, some of you may be scratching your head and saying, “I’m sorry ye old feathered dinosaur, but tell me something I don’t know.” That’s the thing about science, we may think we know that eating a bucket of fried chicken or fish and chips is “bad” for you, but we can’t be sure until we have published studies that give us statistically powerful results.

Despite the beliefs by nearly everyone, including physicians, that fried food is directly linked to cardiovascular disease, studies have been inconclusive in establishing that link. A recent large prospective cohort study in Europe showed no link between fried food and coronary heart disease. The link between fried food and anything is hardly settled science, despite the conventional wisdom.

And since nearly 25-36% of Americans consume fast food, which presumably includes a lot of fried food, researchers wanted to reduce as many confounders as possible by narrowing the study group to women of a certain age.

And that’s what we have from a new study published in January 2019. Let’s take a look at the study and discuss what it may mean. Continue reading “Fried food increases cardiovascular mortality risk – sorry KFC”

The official 2018 top ten list from the Skeptical Raptor

2018 top ten list

Since it’s the end of the year, and all good bloggers do some sort of 2018 top ten list. Of course, I’ve been doing this since 2012, so it’s a tradition. At least for the last seven years.

My 2018 top ten list actually is voted on by you, the loyal reader. I don’t choose this list, it’s just the top 10 (with a couple of bonuses) most read articles published on this website. Sadly, some of my favorite articles didn’t make it to the top, but maybe what interests me doesn’t interest you. I can live with that.

So here we go. I think there’s a drum roll somewhere.

The official 2018 top ten list of articles

  1. Nick Catone son dies tragically – blaming vaccines with no evidence. An article by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss describing a sad story where parents try to blame vaccines, yet there is little evidence supporting such a belief.
  2. Gardasil facts – debunking myths about HPV vaccine safety and efficacy. This article is a list of everything the feathered dinosaur has written about the HPV vaccine or Gardasil. Let’s summarize – the vaccine is safe and it prevents cancer.
  3. MTHFR gene and vaccines – what are the facts and myths – the MTHFR gene is one of the canards of the anti-vaccine religion – they believe it’s got something to do with vaccines. It doesn’t.
  4.  The Medical Medium – junk medicine with psychic reading – The Medical Medium is one of the most creepy individuals pushing pseudo-medicine. He thinks he can use psychic reading to diagnose and treat serious medical conditions. I’m glad people are reading this article to find out facts about this charlatan.
  5. Colon detoxification – myth versus science. People think that detoxing is useful. It isn’t.
  6. MSG myth – debunked with real science. MSG is just a simple amino acid that is part of the structure of nearly every protein that one consumes. It has no effect on human physiology unless we throw in observation bias and a dash of racism.
  7. Tetyana Obukhanych – another anti-vaccine appeal to false authority. Obukhanych is someone who has what appears to be sterling credentials but denies science to push false claims about vaccines. This is why we should always ignore all credentials.
  8. Marijuana medical benefits – large review finds very few. Marijuana advocates try to push a narrative that cannabis has medical benefits, usually to create some level of credibility for marijuana legalization. However, real science shows us that marijuana only has a few medical uses. And it has no effect on cancer.
  9. Japan banned Gardasil – another ridiculous anti-vaccine myth. This trope, based on really no good information, is one of the favorites of the anti-vaccine world. Gardasil is still available in Japan.
  10. Bananas prevent cancer – debunking another myth about food. This article was first written during the early Cretaceous, yet it is still the most popular article ever written here. It has been read over 120,000 times, which is amazing as blog articles go. The basic facts are that pseudoscience-loving foodies misread an article thinking that bananas contain a protein called tumor necrosis factor. Bananas don’t. Even if they did, you cannot absorb tumor necrosis factor, since it will be broken down in the digestive tract into amino acids. And even if you could absorb it, the factor does not kill cancer. In fact TNF increases inflammation which increases risk of cancer. But it’s not in bananas, so this is all irrelevant.

2018 top ten list – bonus #11

Argument by Vaccine Package Inserts – they’re not infallible – anti-vaxxers constantly misread and misrepresent what is written in package inserts. Why do they do this? Because all of the clinical and epidemiological evidence contradicts their claims, so they resort to cherry picking information out of the insert to support their claims. If only they read this article, they’d understand what a package insert is or isn’t.

2018 top ten list – bonus #12

Gardasil killed Colton Berrett? The evidence does not support this claim. This is another tragic story of a child’s life taken too early. But the parents, manipulated by the Vaxxed fraudumentary team, want to blame the HPV vaccine. But the vast mountain of evidence tells us that it wasn’t the vaccine. We should tire of this fake new pushed by the anti-vaccine religion, but they persist, because, once again, they lack evidence for their claims so they move to blatant emotional manipulation. They’re vile people.

And that’s it for 2018

It’s been a very successful year for the old feathered dinosaur’s blog. We’ve had almost 2.5 million views of articles, and over 10 million hits. It remains one of the most popular websites on the internet, ranking in the top 300,000 websites – I know what you’re thinking, that the old Skeptical Raptor isn’t Facebook or Twitter. And it isn’t. However, since there are over 1.8 billion websites on the internet, it means that this website ranks in the 0.00167% of all of the websites in the world. As I joke frequently to friends, I remember cheering when I hit 100 visitors…for a whole freaking month.

I’m planning to do a few things a bit different in 2019. I’m going to do a weekly article on an interesting clinical or epidemiological study that crosses my desk. These articles will be outside of my normal articles on pseudoscience – they may be on psychiatric or cardiovascular drugs. They may look at new medical technologies.

Finally, I want to thank all of the readers who have made my articles here and the cross posts at the Daily Kos so popular. I really appreciate the support, kind words, and vibrant discussions. Time to watch my undergrad and graduate schools play football games – hopefully, they win. And to cheer against Notre Dame and Alabama. Well, Notre Dame lost badly, so that made me smile.

Everyone, please have a safe and fun New Year’s celebration. And have a Happy 2019. May Trump please be indicted – that will make my year the best.

Colon detoxification – myth versus science

colon detoxification

Listen to the radio for a few minutes. Or watch late night television for a bit. Through the commercials hawking insurance with talking geckos, promoting treatments for erectile dysfunction, and, exhibiting the coolest, fastest, most fuel-efficient car, you will run across the reason for all that ails you–your failure to use colon detoxification to fix your problems.

Colon detoxification or, sometimes, cleansing is one of those strange alternative medicine ideas that hang around without one single bit of evidence supporting it. We’re going to take a look at it with the feathery dinosaur’s skeptical eye. Continue reading “Colon detoxification – myth versus science”

Contaminated supplements – spiked with potentially dangerous ingredients

contaminated supplements

The supplement industry is huge and unregulated. Americans spend more than $30 billion annually on them, yet contaminated supplements are part of the industry’s method to make their mostly useless products appear to have some clinical effect.

There is growing evidence that these contaminated supplements contain unlabeled ingredients that are found in regulated pharmaceuticals – all without telling the consumer about them. Or testing them. Or listing warnings for their use.

As I’ve written many times, supplements are basically worthless, unless you have specific chronic medical conditions or suffer from chronic malnutrition that prevents you from receiving enough micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals. In addition, those on highly restrictive diets, like vegans or those who have had weight-loss surgery, may require supplementation, although both could be considered “chronic medical conditions.”

For example, in modern prenatal care, the pregnant mother is urged to take folic acid supplements to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in the developing fetus. But after the pregnancy is over, folic acid is no longer needed – in fact, continued use of folic acid may actually increase the risk of some forms of cancer, in individuals who have no medical need for the supplement.

Because a lot of people favor confirmation bias as their go-to argument, I constantly hear, “hey Skeptical Raptor, vitamin C prevents scurvy, ergo all supplements are the greatest thing we can consume.” Scurvy is fairly rare these days in developed countries, but it can happen especially to smokers since cigarette smoke inhibits uptake of vitamin C (and another reason not to smoke).

So unless your diet only includes steak, ice cream, and junk food, an average American or European will get more than adequate amounts of vitamin C from their diet. Anyone deficient in vitamin C could be considered to be malnourished, and, of course, they will benefit from a vitamin C supplement. But vitamin C does not prevent colds, flu, or cancer. It is not a miracle vitamin, despite the oft-debunked claims of the pseudoscience-based supplement proponents.

Despite the utter lack of or weak evidence of the usefulness of supplements, unsurprisingly, over half of all Americans take dietary supplements. I guess chronic malnutrition and medical conditions afflict over half of Americans. The facts are that human needs for nutrients, like vitamins, are more than adequately met by a broad, healthy diet that includes a lot of fruits and vegetables.

But there’s more bad news, and it’s more than just overpriced, mostly useless products. It’s that contaminated supplements are widespread in this industry.  Continue reading “Contaminated supplements – spiked with potentially dangerous ingredients”

Gluten-free foods for children – are they actually healthy?

gluten free

There are many food and nutritional fads floating around the internet that have limited scientific or medical evidence supporting their nutritional usefulness. One of them is the gluten-free diet that has become one of the most prevalent, and annoying, food crazes.

Of course, parents who buy into these fads often include their children. And it’s been the same for the gluten-free obsession. But are gluten-free foods “healthy” for children? Lucky for us, a new study has looked into it. And I am going to look into that study. Continue reading “Gluten-free foods for children – are they actually healthy?”

Coffee health benefits – will not save your life, but it is safe and delicious

coffee health benefits

I am an admitted coffee aficionado. I love the taste. I love the warmth. No, I don’t drink those maddening caramel strawberry double shot nonfat iced frappucinos – I like my coffee hot with a splash of cream and some very safe aspartame. Nevertheless, I’ve never thought much about coffee health advantages – it never seemed relevant to me.

I remember directing a clinical trial at a large teaching hospital in Seattle, WA back in the late 1980s, and there was a Starbucks kiosk in the lobby. I know most of you would think “what’s so great about that?” But, it was nearly 30 years ago, and Starbucks wasn’t a thing that it is today – I know some coffee snobs hate them, but 30 years ago, good coffee was unknown to most of the USA. Well, unless you lived in Seattle, apparently.

That kiosk started my love of coffee. I tried different coffee makers and methods of brewing coffee. Over the years, I’ve settled on a French press (as it is known in Canada and the USA, a coffee plunger in Australia and New Zealand, or a cafetière in France and the UK) for my coffee, which probably makes me a coffee snob.

I’ve written about the coffee health effects previously. And, in August 2018, a new paper was published that seemed to indicate that drinking lots of coffee lowered your risk of mortality. And, of course, websites across the internet chimed in with the great news. But did it really say that? Of course, your coffee-addicted ancient dinosaur will take a look.  Continue reading “Coffee health benefits – will not save your life, but it is safe and delicious”

Mediterranean diet could prolong life of elderly – solid supporting evidence

Mediterranean diet

In general, I’m unconvinced about fad diets, unless there is some really powerful published evidence in support. And those are rare. However, I think that there is some good evidence that the Mediterranean diet may be valuable to improving outcomes for several outcomes like cardiovascular diseases. Now we see that there is moderate evidence that the Mediterranean diet could add years to the life of the elderly.

There is a new study published that examines whether the Mediterranean diet could prolong the life of the elderly. Let’s take a look. Continue reading “Mediterranean diet could prolong life of elderly – solid supporting evidence”

Supplements for cardiovascular diseases – more evidence that they don’t work

supplements for cardiovascular diseases

I have been skeptical of supplements for a long time – not because I have some predisposition against them. My skepticism results from the relative lack of any robust evidence that supplements have any positive effect on human health other than in unique situations of chronic diseases or malnutrition. In fact, most of the high-quality evidence about supplements show that it does not work. And a recently published review shows that using supplements for cardiovascular diseases are expensive and useless.

Since many readers fail to read what I wrote above, let me repeat myself for clarity. Supplements are not completely useless – of course, they are important for those who have chronic diseases or conditions may require supplements of some or many micronutrients. Someone who has had bariatric surgery or other types of serious gastrointestinal surgery may not be able to consume enough vitamins and minerals from food, and they will require multivitamins.

Also, some individuals may be malnourished, which doesn’t mean just not eating enough, but not eating some foods that have specific nutrients. For example, avoiding certain foods that contain vitamin C could put you at risk for a disease called scurvy, which can be deadly. There are several other diseases that result from missing key nutrients. However, in the modern developed world, these diseases are extremely rare because of the varied diet we have – and the availability of supplements to treat those diseases.

However, several points have got to be made. Just because vitamin C can treat scurvy doesn’t mean that more vitamin C makes your immune system suddenly powerful enough to destroy the common cold or flu or cure cancer. Vitamin D, although there are many cases of deficiency in many countries, is not a miracle supplement. It cannot cure or prevent cancer. It does not impart superpower abilities to your immune system.

The whole supplement industry has an overreliance on logical fallacies (like appeal to popular belief or appeal antiquity) or anecdotes (which aren’t data) to convince customers to buy their nonsense. They do this because they are not required to undergo gold-standard clinical trials to convince the FDA to approve their claims. Real pharmaceuticals, on the other hand, take 10-20 years of research and clinical trials before they are approved for use.

Big Supplement (yeah, it’s a huge industry, over US$100 billion annually, worldwide) also pushes the trope that if a little helps, a lot is better. This is not good science. The millions of years of human evolution (following up a billion years of immune system evolution) has led to a rather powerful immune system that is exceedingly complex and has always been able to do its job without the addition of supplements (unless early Homo sapiens had access to a GNC someplace).

But let’s take a look at supplements for cardiovascular diseases (stroke, heart attacks, and other cardiovascular conditions) – a new review shows us, once again, that there’s nothing there. Continue reading “Supplements for cardiovascular diseases – more evidence that they don’t work”