It was more than 22 years ago that I wrote my first column for the Nutrition Alert. Back in the mid-1990s, vitamin C and the common cold, soy and antioxidants were big news. There was no mention of the omega-3s, phytonutrients were a new topic in research, and vitamin D was only suspected to do more than help maintain strong bones.
We’ve come a long way since then. Researchers are breaking nutrition ground on exciting areas, such as diet and cognition, the link between gut health and brain health, and new forms of old vitamins such as folate’s methyltetrahydrofolate (MTHF) and niacin’s nicotinamide riboside (NR). Mapping the genome has opened up a new field of nutrition called nutrigenomics, which has only begun to investigate how diet influences gene expression. In addition, nutrition has never been such a hot topic for people. More than ever, we realize how critical what we eat is to who we are today and down the road. It will be interesting to see how the nutrition field changes in the next 20 years and how that impacts our lives. One thing is for sure, you must remain vigilant in deciphering the research.
News-worthy topics may have sizzle when it comes to headlines, but they aren’t always what they appear. The media reports on controversy, not consensus. A study that concludes the omega-3s have no effect on memory makes the evening news, yet the preponderance of the evidence says otherwise. Few reporters put the study into perspective and weigh the wealth of studies showing a strong protective effect for this nutrient in the prevention of dementia. How is a person to decipher truth from tabloids? Basically, pay attention to how the media reports on clinical research and how you interpret the stories.
First, single studies never provide a “yes” or “no” answer. Nutrition is not a “black-and-white” issue. You must look at the weight of the evidence. The best one study does is contribute a small thread to the tapestry of evidence on a topic. What does the tapestry say, not the individual threads. Keep abreast of nutrition trends, view one study cautiously, and reflect on the entire ocean of research, looking for patterns. There are no overnight “breakthroughs” or “quick fixes” in nutrition.
Second, look at research on animals with an interested, but skeptical eye. A nutrient might prevent cancer in rats, but that does not necessarily mean it will have the same effect in humans. In addition, even human studies should be considered carefully; a study showing calcium lowers colon cancer in men might or might not apply women. Also, who did the research and where was it published?
Third, carefully pick and choose which nutrition changes to make in your life, based on your personal health risks and profile. A woman who stops taking her iron supplements after a study reports iron causes heart disease might aggravate her risk for iron deficiency and anemia, with no benefit to her heart.
This is my last issue as Editor in Chief of Nutrition Alert. I am grateful for our loyal readership. Your commitment to health is commendable. I will continue to follow the research, and like you, use that to make informed, rational decisions. One of the goals of Nutrition Alert has been to present an unbiased view of the latest research, which will help you, your friends, customers, and clients sift through the news to make informed, intelligent choices based on sound and timely information.
Elizabeth Somer, M.A.,R.D.