Sunday, June 28, 2009

2,5 Billion(!) dollars spent on search for alternative therapies...

Often when I debate alternative therapies or remedies with people they claim that there is no evidence in favor of alternative methods and therapies because no one bothers to investigate (and find the amazing effects), or that no money is given to investigators who want to test these remedies i.e. that the grant managers are against alternative therapies. These excuses are now no longer valid since the American government has spent 2,5 Billion dollars testing alternative therapies.

As was known and not unexpected from my point of view is that some alternative therapies do show minor benefits. Acupuncture works for certain things, yoga helps you relax which also results in other spin off effects. However a large majority of the therapies tested proved to be no better than placebo (if you think that placebo is "good enough" read my post here).

Also remarkable is how easy it seems to be to get a grant if you wan't to study alternative therapies (which by definition do not have a solid scientific theory behind them). In one instance 2 million dollars were given to study whether accupressure could help people loose weight. Now this large sum of money was given despite the fact that a pilot study on 60 participants had failed. The grant was given even though no scientist have ever found any evidence of meridians (in accupressure you are supposed to press on these meridians). I could go on, but the essence of the matter is that these 2 million dollars were given to a study that, judging from the evidence, had extremely low plausibility - I would even go as far as to say that if accupressure would prove to have an effect (beyond placebo) we would face a paradigm shift in biology.

There are of course some positive aspects of this endeavour. I suppose that it is normally good to test whether a really popular type of therapy works. However, the question is whether the people using a particular therapy cares about the outcome of a scientific study - my guess is that they will only care if it gives them a positive results, otherwise it is just biased scientists. I also have trouble seeing where to put the line, there are some really crazy ideas out there and if we would start to research everything that is getting popular we would end up spending huge amounts of money on evaluating pure nonsense.

I would personally prefer that grants are given to those who have good reasons for studying whatever it is they want to study, today that is not the case...

See also orsakverkan (swe)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Norwegians going to hell...

A few stats about Norway from this cartoon...

1. They are the most peaceful nation in the world
2. They have the highest standard of living
3. Unemployment is below 2%
4. They are the best educated people in the world
5. They have the highest literacy, and...
6. 70% of Norwegians are atheist

See also my post on religiosity and welbeing of a nation here, or read the post where I found this picuture here.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Truth about the Atkins diet...

Would you like to be able to eat dishes such as the one above, and get thin at the same time? According to Robert Atkins, the man behind the infamous "Atkins diet", you can. I have quite a few acquaintances who have tried the Atkins diet and quite a few of those say that it has worked rather well for them. I also know of people on whom the diet did not have a huge effect, but perhaps they have not been very disciplined?

By nature I am skeptical of anything that sounds extraordinary, and when someone comes and claims that you can eat as much meat,fat sauce, cream, chicken etc etc as you like, AND lose weight, that, to me, is an extraordinary claim! Sometimes such radical claims turn out to be right, however most of the time they are wrong...

The bottom line of the Atkins diet is quite simple: avoid carbohydrates, especially fast carbohydrates, anything else is pretty much alright. To be a bit more precise you are supposed to avoid foods that have a high "glycemic index" or GI. Products that increase your blood sugar fast have high GI (examples would be sugar, white rice, pasta, beer, etc).

According to Atkins (see picture below), his diet works because the body requires carbojydrates to store fat, in other words, if there are no carbohydrates the fat will go right through the body. This is also why, according to Atkins and his followers, you can eat as much as you like, be it the ordinary 2000 calories or even 4000 calories in one day, and you will still loose weight.

So what is the truth here? I am of course no expert on these matters, but it seems to me that accumulating evidence clearly suggests that although the Atkins diet may work, it doesn`t do it the way Robert Atkins thought it did. Rather, the Atkins diet works because you eat less when you are on it. It turns out that when the brain decides whether we are hungry or not, and in extension whether we should crawl over to the fridge and get a slice of pizza, one factor that is taken into account is peptide YY. If there is a lot of peptide YY in the body then you are full, if there is little you should eat. What causes the release of peptide YY? You guessed it, proteins does, but not carbohydrates. This means that if you eat say 1500 calories of protein then you get a lot of peptide YY and therefore you feel full and stop eating. However, if on the other hand you eat 1500 calories worth of potatoes, little peptide YY is released and therefore will still feel hungry and unless you are one of those people with amazing self control, you will keep eating... Read more about this in this article from the economist.

The conclusion that the Atkins diet works because you eat less and not because you stop storing fat has been further confirmed by a recent large Harvard study. In this study they had their subjects eat the same amount of calories, but varied the source of those calories. Some subjects were given mostly carbohydrates, some were given mostly fats, and some were given mostly protein - but all got the same number of calories. Who lost most weight? According to Atkins theory, the fewer carbohydrates you eat, the more you should loose in weight, but this was not the case. The results showed that all the different groups lost equal amounts of weight.

So the bottom line of all this is that if you want to loose weight, eat less calories. One way to achieve this is to eat a lot of protein and little carbohydrates, because you will not be as hungry...