4 Tips on Spotting BAD Research

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When is a study NOT worth reading?

Darlings,

LaDiva here – Totally annoyed!

Here is an article about NEW Fascinating research important about kids with cow milk allergies having bone problems.  The original article is from Pediatrics magazine, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.  Please open it and read along.

  1. Scary Headlines – Here’s the articles headline: Cow’s Milk Allergy in Childhood May Lead to Weaker Bones: Study

    What you may miss is the subtitle:
    But one expert contends that difference in bone density wasn’t enough, on average, to worry about fractures

    So, what is the point to this article?  Or what does one person’s opinion mean?  What should I look for in this article?  You should look for the supporting evidence that clearly states that my kid, or kids I know, that have cow milk allergies will have weaker bones or may have weaker bones later in life.

    Scary titles are a red flag for me.  This usually means I will have to read between the lines to figure out what is really being said.  A prime example is “Butter – Great Again!”  This was completely flawed meta-analysis research.  Please contact me if you want the skinny on it.

  2. Be clear on what is actually being studied or compared.
    Here’s the first paragraph:
    Children who are allergic to cow’s milk may have weaker bones than kids with other food allergies, a small study suggests

    Ok, in the first paragraph the writer totally backpedals.  The kids may have a bone problem, but only when compared to kids with other food allergies, not most kids.  So, what does that mean to the kids I know?  I have no idea.
  3. How many people?
    Then, the article continues with “small study suggests”.  Again, this is a suggestion, not an actual truth for the average kid.  So, for how many kids?  This is a small study, but how small?  52 kids.  Yep, that’s it.  So, 56 kids studied have this problem.  Oops, I’m wrong.  Only 6% of 52 kids.  That’s 3-4 kids.  THREE or FOUR KIDS?  Why is this even making news?  This data would not even qualify you for a graduate term paper much less a published article in an internationally recognized journal.
    Alright, I’m just jealous.  Anyone know the submission protocols for Pediatrics magazine?  I need some cash and am going to publish my own study.  I work with kids in a residential treatment facility.  There are at least 10 out of a 100 kids where I work that are allergic to tomato sauce.  This is a bigger population than the milk study and would be classified as a more “Robust” study.  Tomato sauce contains lycopene.  Lycopene decreases risk for heart attack and different cancers. If I tested for inflammation [there is a biomarker we test for to show whether there is inflammation in the body] in these kids, I would probably find it increased.  Increased inflammation is one risk factor for heart disease.   If I published this as a study the headlines would be:
    Tomato Allergy in children may lead to increase heart disease: Study
    But, what about what else is going on in their diets and lives?
    Absurdity on wheels.  But I will cash the check and do the book tour.
  4. Does the methodology of the study make sense?
    How long did they study these kids?  For 5 years?  10 years?  Did this condition persist?  That would possibly mean something.  Nope. Testing was done once.  Now, the kids did have lower bone mineral density, but bones need 17 nutrients to be built.  This just talks about calcium intake.  What about the other 16?  The study mentions that Vitamin D levels were taken, but we have no idea what they were.  The article only states that the intake [which we don’t know if that was from 1 day or 4 weeks] was lower than recommendations.
    Here’s another statement from the article:
    Long-standing cow’s milk allergy in adults has been linked to reduced bone density.
    Um, many studies of Asian and African women, prior to urbanization, who have many children and have no cow milk source have great bones.  Where is evidence to support the article’s statement?
  5. Are the outcomes repeatable?  This means that you should be able to find other studies doing, basically, the same thing showing the same result.  Okay, “study suggests” is part of the original article language.  So, we are not to take this as established fact. On the other hand, what can we take away from 3-4 kids?  FYI, Kathy Doheny [writer of this], repeats the idea of low calcium intake is equated with negative bone health.  I have two thoughts on this:
    1. Where the most amount of calcium from cow milk is drunk or eaten is also where there are the highest incidents of hip fractures.  Part of my evidence is this little study from Harvard where they looked at milk consumption in the teen years for 96,000 people for 22 years.  In fact, an article from the British Medical Journal including many, many participants showed that the galactose [sugar found in cow milk (“gala” is Greek for “milk”)] led to increases of all causes of mortality in women and men, especially those drinking 3 glasses a day.
    2. The study researchers state that these 3-4 kids had low bone mineral density, however, they DID NOT have low bone density.  There is a profound difference.  The kids bones appeared just fine.  And there is a mountain of evidence, including my cited studies, that cow milk or calcium supplements do not support older bone health.  The World Health Organization recommends around 350 mg of calcium daily for kids, not the over 900 mg stated in the article.  Kids can absorb that amount of calcium from legumes, vegetables, nuts, seeds and fruits.

Not everything in this article is terrible.  Luckily, it’s short.  I’m glad Ms. Doheny cites someone saying this doesn’t amount to much.  It’s great that she gives some alternative sources for calcium. However, she doesn’t mention that tofu, collard greens and bok choy all have more absorbable calcium than cow milk without the galactose complications. She does mention that cow’s milk is fortified [has added in] with Vitamin D because cow milk does not come with Vitamin D.  Other milks are also fortified.  Any milk that has Vitamin D will equally supply the kids.

Now, Darlings, I know that Ms. Doheny is NOT a researcher, but if she is going to take on the role as science expert she should know how to report on what really counts.

 

 

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