Canola oil causes Alzheimer’s disease? Dubious evidence

Canola oil causes Alzheimer's disease

Food fads make me want to scream, cry, and hide in a cabin in the mountains. MSG is safe. And high fructose corn syrup is just an awful name for sugar. And only a small number of people have a real gluten sensitivity. And now a new paper has caused the internet to explode with the trope that canola oil causes Alzheimer’s disease.

This new internet meme is based on a peer-reviewed article published in a real journal. But as I have written time and again, just because an article seems like it has sterling credentials, it doesn’t mean the article is above criticism. We’ll get to this article below.

As expected, all of the usual suspects in the pseudoscience world have jumped on board with clickbait headlines like, “Scientists finally issue warning against canola oil: Study reveals it is detrimental to brain health, contributes to dementia, causes weight gain.” I always find it ironic when a pseudoscience pushing website believes in scientists when it supports their belief.

Of course, we need to take a look at this whole issue. Here’s my spoiler alert (but please read the whole article) – there is little evidence that canola oil causes Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or dementia. You can use it safely. Continue reading “Canola oil causes Alzheimer’s disease? Dubious evidence”

Diet soda increases risk of stroke and dementia – does it?

diet soda increases risk

Two recent studies published in respected journals seem to indicate that diet soda increases risk of stroke and dementia. Not to give a free pass to sugary drinks, one of the studies seemed to indicate that either artificially sweetened or sugar filled drinks might be linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Typical of the popular press and your average website, they accept the findings of these studies without any serious critique of these studies. US News blares a headline that says, “Health buzz: drinking diet soda linked to stroke, dementia risk, study says.” Thankfully, many of the headlines use the qualifier “may be linked,” but I’m afraid most people will overlook that nuanced discussion of these studies.

But what does the actual science say? Do these studies provide us with robust evidence that cutting out diet soda will suddenly decrease our risk of stroke, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease? Probably not, but let’s see what this data actually tells us.

 

Continue reading “Diet soda increases risk of stroke and dementia – does it?”

Aluminum adjuvant in vaccines – let’s go cherry picking

Aluminum adjuvant

With the success of California’s vaccination law, SB277, there appears to be a trend to increase vaccination uptake among school-aged children. And it’s a great thing that we protect our children from vaccine preventable diseases. Yet, the anti-vaccine crowd is still looking for lame excuses to not vaccinate – today, it’s the aluminum adjuvant in vaccines.

The anti-vaccine crowd has a tendency to ignore the vast and powerful scientific consensus on vaccines. Instead, they prefer to cherry pick research, often from biased “scientists” who publish in the lowest quality journals. That cherry picking is a form of confirmation bias – the individual seeks evidence that supports their a priori conclusions rather than letting the robust body of evidence point them to a conclusion.

Generally, these myths, based on cherry picking, are debunked. But the anti-vaccine cult is nothing if not creative. They just move on to a new boogeyman. This time, it’s aluminum adjuvants in vaccines. To be honest, anti-vaccine tropes are zombies, so we think we destroy those tropes, but they rise again, fed by new cherry picking. And debunking the danger of aluminum in vaccines has been an age-old discussion amongst the pro-science crowd.

Today, we’re going to look at one of those articles which was recently published. If one accepted this research, while ignoring critical analysis and the body of other science, then it would be a great one to confirm one’s own pre-conceived beliefs. But that’s not how we do science, so let’s take a look. Continue reading “Aluminum adjuvant in vaccines – let’s go cherry picking”

Why we vaccinate–debunking flu vaccine myths in 25 easy steps

flu-shot-mythThe seasonal flu is associated with an estimated 54,000 to 430,000 hospitalizations and approximately 3,000 to 49,000 deaths annually in the USA. So anyone who thinks that the flu isn’t a serious disease, needs to look at those numbers again. People die. And not just the old or sick–healthy people and children are killed by the flu. And let’s not forget about more serious pandemics, like H1N1, that can kill many more people.

We’ve all heard the excuses and myths about the flu vaccines. They’re repeated over and over again not only by those who are vaccine deniers, but more often by average people who just refuse to get the vaccine. This week, a fellow blogger and someone whom I’ve gotten to know over the past couple of years, Tara Haelle, spent numerous hours putting together the Top 25 Myths about the flu vaccine, which she published here. Read it. Please. 

So, below is her list of 25 myths about the flu vaccine, with links back to her article (and in some cases, to this blog too) that debunk the myth. After you read this, share it with everyone. Your neighbor who won’t get the flu vaccine. Your spouse. Your parents. Your coworker. And one more person–yourself. Continue reading “Why we vaccinate–debunking flu vaccine myths in 25 easy steps”

Ginkgo biloba and the brain–myth vs. science

ginkgo-health-benefits-bullshitGinkgo biloba is actually an interesting plant because it has been relatively unchanged for nearly 270 million years. It is considered a living fossil, an informal term used for species like G. biloba that appear to be the same as a species otherwise only known from fossils and which has no close living relatives. The genus Ginkgo was fairly widely distributed until about 100 million years ago. It slowly disappeared from the fossil record until it was found only in one small part of China about 5 million years ago, where it is found today.  

The tree is native to China and is known to have been widely cultivated early in human history. It is used as a food source by various Asian cultures, with the Chinese eating the meaty gametophytes and the Japanese the whole seed. Unfortunately, the seed also contains a chemical, 4′-O-methylpyridoxine, that can be poisonous if consumed in a sufficiently large enough quantity.  Continue reading “Ginkgo biloba and the brain–myth vs. science”

Judging the quality of science sources

science-evidence

Note: this article has been substantially updated, just click the link.

 

Recently, I wrote articles on skepticism and debunking pseudoscience, both of which require large amounts of evidence. And of course, a true scientific skeptic needs to judge the quality of evidence, because individuals who push science denialism often cherry pick seemingly high quality science to support their beliefs.

A good scientific skeptic needs to decipher the science (or pseudoscience) in popular news articles, for example, to determine its validity. We should be critical, if not skeptical, of what is written in these articles to ascertain what is or is not factually scientific. We even need to determine the quality of science from the best to the weakest, so that we can determine the level of authority of the science before we pass it along to others.

With the social media, like Facebook and Twitter, which provides us with data that may not exceed a few words, then it’s even more imperative that we separate the absurd (bananas kill cancer) from the merely misinterpreted (egg yolks are just as bad as smoking).

Wikipedia is one place which can either be an outstanding resource for science or medicine, or it can just a horrible mess with citations to pseudoscience, junk medicine pushers. For example, Wikipedia’s article on Alzheimer’s disease is probably one of the best medical articles in the “encyclopedia”. It is laid out in a logical manner, with an excellent summary, a discussion of causes, pathophysiology, mechanisms, treatments, and other issues. It may not be at the level of a medical review meant for a medical student or researcher, but it would be a very good start for a scientifically inclined college researcher or someone who had a family who was afflicted with the disease.

Continue reading “Judging the quality of science sources”

Ginkgo biloba and neurological disorders–Myth vs. Science

I’m trying out a new series, looking at some popular myths (mostly in medicine, but maybe we’ll wander outside of it when something interesting shows up) and determining if there’s any support or not in science. I’m going to link mostly to science articles and high-quality blogs, just so you have all the back-up evidence that you need. One way or another.

Background

Ginkgo biloba is actually an interesting plant because it has been relatively unchanged for nearly 270 million years. It is considered a living fossil, an informal term used for species like G. biloba that appear to be the same as a species otherwise only known from fossils and which has no close living relatives. The genus Ginkgo was fairly widely distributed until about 100 million years ago. It slowly disappeared from the fossil record until it was found only in one small part of China about 5 million years ago, where it is found today.  

The tree is native to China and is known to have been widely cultivated early in human history. It is used as a food source by various Asian cultures, with the Chinese eating the meaty gametophytes and the Japanese the whole seed. Unfortunately, the seed contains a chemical, 4′-O-methylpyridoxine, that can be poisonous if consumed in enough quantity.  Continue reading “Ginkgo biloba and neurological disorders–Myth vs. Science”

Quality of science sources in Wikipedia and the news

Several weeks ago, I wrote an article on how to decipher the science (or pseudoscience) in popular news articles. It discusses how we should be critical, if not skeptical, of what is written in these articles to ascertain what is or is not factually scientific. We even need to determine the quality of science from the best to the weakest, so that we can determine the level of authority of the science before we pass it along to others. With the social media, like Facebook and Twitter, which provides us with data that may not exceed a few words, then it’s even more imperative that we separate the absurd (bananas kill cancer) from the merely misinterpreted (egg yolks are just as bad as smoking).

Wikipedia is one place which can either be an outstanding resource for science or medicine, or it can just a horrible mess with citations to pseudoscience purveyors. For example, Wikipedia’s article on Alzheimer’s disease is probably one of the best medical articles on the “encyclopedia”. It is laid out in a logical manner, with an excellent summary, a discussion of causes, pathophysiology, mechanisms, treatments, and other issues. It may not be at the level of a medical review meant for a medical student or researcher, but it would be a very good start for a scientifically inclined college researcher or someone who had a family who was afflicted with the disease. Continue reading “Quality of science sources in Wikipedia and the news”

Early onset Alzheimer’s disease ends coaching career of Pat Summitt

 

Pat Summitt's trademarked glare.

Pat Summitt, probably one of the greatest basketball coaches ever, has stepped down as the coach of the University of Tennessee’s women’s basketball team.  She announced that she had early-onset Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in August 2011, and she had coached the 2011-12 season, but today, as a result of the disease, she resigned.  During her career, she won 8 NCAA Division 1 Women’s Basketball Championships, a record that is almost impossible to comprehend.  Her reputation and success is the envy of college sports.  

Early onset AD is usually defined as a diagnosis before the age of 65.  Early onset AD may occur in individuals as young as their 30’s (very rare), but with most diagnoses in patients in their 50’s.  Summitt was diagnosed at the age of 58 (and without knowing everything, she might have had symptoms earlier), so the age of onset is not unusual. Continue reading “Early onset Alzheimer’s disease ends coaching career of Pat Summitt”