Analysis Bad Science: Low-Carb Diet & Mortality

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The latest low-Carb diet research published in Lancet Public Health strongly suggests that diets low in carbs have the possibility of shortening the lifespan of a person. Medical professionals find this assertion demonstratively flawed.

Based on fluctuating data, physicians make recommendations of certain foods for consumption. At times, the data come in so fast and furious, science just seems to push the food fad of the week. Many physicians have for some time been recommending low carbohydrate food diets (LCHF) to their clients who are considered obese and those with metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome, also known as Syndrome X, is a cluster of six elements that increase a person’s risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. These are:

  • Abdominal obesity
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels
  • Insulin resistance
  • High blood sugar
  • Proinflammatory and prothrombotic states

Original Low Carb Diet Findings

Years of ongoing research show that for some people, diets that are low in carbohydrates are effective. Moreover, they have potential benefits in the following ways.  

F.L Santos, S.S. Esteves, A.da Costa Pereira, in their meta-analysis provide a discussion on the impact of low carbohydrate diets on mortality. This dialogue is one that has lingered for quite some time now in the public domain and has generated many debates in the nutrition circles. Going into the future, this does not in any way show any sign of abating. In this process, we develop skills that empower us to be engaged, have difficult conversations, expand our empathy, understand differing views, collaborate, self-reflect, and train our brains and minds to critically think and make informed decisions.

What Is A Low Carb Diet?

A low carb diet consists of a meal with small amounts of carbohydrate foods, and a higher percentage of foods that are rich in protein and fat. This is also referred to as low carb, high-fat food (LCHF), or as the Ketogenic diet. Carbohydrates such as those found in fruits, starchy vegetables, and grains and legumes are significantly reduced with a low carb diet.

When a person is on a low carb diet, a reduction in the amount of sugar or starch is in their diet. This invariably stabilizes the blood sugar and consequently causes a drop in the level of the fat storing hormone insulin. This, in turn, leads to the shedding of body fat, and therefore weight loss. In the reference, Insulin Resistance: A Vicious Cycle, by Dr. Phillip Wood, MS, PhD, this reduction of body fat is a common feature in patients who are obese or who have metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes. Insulin-resistant patients require higher than normal amounts of insulin to maintain normal blood glucose concentrations.”

Contradicting Research Findings and Analysis

A recent investigation involved 15,400 Americans studied over a 25-year time period. The results show that people who consume a moderate amount of carbs have a possibility of living longer as compared with those on low or higher carb diet. According to data, moderate carb eaters lived on average four years longer as compared to low carb eaters. Since the release of this research, some experts in the field of medicine have made a rebuttal argument of the conclusion, especially finding fault with the methodologies used in the study.

For example, Dr. Angela Stanton, Ph.D. describes the entire supposition as bad science. In her article When Bad Science Can Harm You” she describes the study as being manipulated to fit the hypothesis of the research team. 

According to the study investigators “…We did not update carbohydrate intake of participants that developed heart disease, diabetes, and stroke before Visit 3..” Oh wow! So those who ate a lot of carbohydrates and developed diabetes, stroke, heart disease during the study were excluded. The exclusion of this population influences and redirect the outcomes rather than reflect reality.

Dr. Stanton cites the scientific flaws:

  • Design and participant methodology should not exclude people who were initially part of the study group, but became metabolically unwell over the 25-year period of conducting the study.
  • Participant interviews and study procedures were not standardized or well defined as to portion sizes, amounts, frequency, and quantities.
  • The statistical analysis is incomplete. Data collection did not follow best practices and only selected elements and sets were used. This can introduce bias and data range manipulation. Additionally, the self-reporting intake food diaries are flawed in themselves.

According to Dr. Georgia Ede and Dr. Ken Berry, the Lancet Public Health outcomes are purely epidemic-illogical and not scientific in nature. Dr. Ede states, “Conducting an accurate study goes beyond computing odd ratios and putting together a fatally-flawed questionnaire that failed to address some basic issues.”

This video contains more details regarding her rebuttal of the Lancet claim. Dr. Ken Berry’s opinion on the finding is available on his YouTube channel.In his response to the Lancet Public Health findings, cardiologist Dr. Aseem Malhotra also disagrees that low carb diet shortens lifespan. More information on this is available in this video.