I Eat Potatoes Therefore I Am Going to Die

Ok, now that I have your attention I will let you off the hook.  No, there is no connection between eating potatoes and the assurance of death.  The reality is that we are all going to die eventually, and there is also a strong possibility that eating potatoes will be a common occurrence throughout a person’s life.  So would it be right to say that because a person eats potatoes that it will be a leading factor in their demise?  Of course not.  This connection is merely an association and the one is not a causation of the other.  In order to make a statement like that there would need to be a controlled study with a non-potato eating control group, and a group of people who eat potatoes.  They would both have to adhere strictly to their prescribed diets for very long periods of time, say 20 - 30 years at least and a third party would then need to crunch the data and come up with a statistical relevance of the results. 

 Unfortunately this is not always what happens in the mainstream world of health and wellness reporting.  All too often there will be a headline or a statement made by some agency stating for example, ”Women who take a multi vitamin are at an increased risk for all types of death.”  This is exactly what happened recently in a journal article, “Dietary Supplements and Mortality Rate in Older Women,” published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 2011, Volume 171(18):1625-1633.”  It would all seem rather legitimate being from a respected Medical Journal, but if you really look at the study design you will see blatant flaws which render statements like this to be completely illegitimate and out of touch with evidence based science.  Unfortunately when there is an agenda at hand the powers that be can easily use their status to promote whatever statements they want the general public to believe.  I have attached a review of this study and the link here, and I urge you to read what it says.  It may shed some light on the things that you often hear touted on the TV, radio, or in magazines. 

 Should you choose not to read these three pages let me provide for you a quick synopsis of the main points:

  • This study followed 38,772 women over 18 years with an initial intake and two follow up questioners that were mailed in by the participants.  The questionnaires inquired about lifestyle practices, food intake, dietary supplement use, weight, smoking status, hormone replacement therapy, and the presence of diabetes or heart disease.

  • Although study participants were asked about their intake of dietary supplements, the study did not report how much of any specific nutrient was consumed. Nor was information elicited from the women regarding the chemical form of the supplement (e.g., picolinate versus sulfate) or the quality of the supplements that were taken.

  • No attempt was made to verify the accuracy of the answers provided in the questionnaires, nor were any of the participating women asked why they were taking supplements, and no attempt was made to determine the impact of taking—or not taking—supplements on any specific individual.

  • In weighing the study’s findings, however, it must be emphasized that the Iowa Women’s Health Study is a retrospective study of already collected data. It is not a prospective, controlled intervention study, i.e., it is not a “clinical trial,” in which participants would be given a specific dietary supplement or a placebo and then followed closely over time to observe not only the specific outcomes but also the factors possibly contributing to those outcomes.

  • “…simple association does not reflect causation. “
These were only a few of the flaws in the study’s design, but I believe them to be hugely important in seeing through the claims made in this study and many others like it.  In my opinion this is not science, but something a bit more devious.  I personally expect a great deal more from the authors of this journal article and from the editors in particular.  We need to push for true professionalism in journals such as these and biased misrepresentation of the findings should not be tolerated!  This type of “study” does a great disservice to both the scientific community and the public at large.  Without accurate reporting and properly designed studies statements like this can be dangerous and should be scorned and forbidden within a respectable scientific community.  I can only hope that when hearing similar claims out there even form the mouth of your medical doctor, there should be little warning bells going off in the back of your head.  Things are not always as they appear.  I urge you to do your research.  Obtain a second or third opinion.  And make informed decisions.  And please allow me to help you become as informed as you can be. It is my pleasure to be a resource for you in this mixed up and generally confusing health care world.