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SUBJECT: Trick or treat? Policy notes from Roc, Nutrition Investigator
Here is a comment I received about my notes sent in October. There I had links to articles that I summarized as 3.Reservatrol benefits the heart 4. Curcumin improves your energy. A diligent reader followed the links and read that these conclusions were based on non-human studies. "Roc, this is very nice, but do you really have a strong feeling that 'reservatrol helps aging rats' is a strong indicator for humans? Or that Curcumin improves energy in fruit flies (or whatever kind of flies those are) really translates to 'improves your energy'. I guess I'd prefer a summary like 'Reservatrol benefits heart in aging rats' and 'Curcumin improves energy level in flies.' Or do you need to warn your readers every time to look beyond the headlines?
ROC'S response: Primum non nocere is a Latin phrase that means "first, do no harm." As one fortunate to have determination and education to read the top nutrition journals each month, and having heard from nutrition researchers what a terrible job we do educating others about progress in nutrition research, I feel an obligation to share what is being discovered. How to share it without demanding too much of your time is the challenge.
The compromise I have accepted is this. Based on my accumulated information from reading and studying biochemistry and nutrition to my age of 66, "what does the latest research predict which is useful to prolong the healthspan of a reasonably healthy human?"
There is a wide range of opinions in the research community. Some only accept double blind clinical trials on humans as valid results for people. I am willing to consider molecular, genetic, cellular, and non-human animal results, if they demonstrate something which is highly likely to be safe and is consistent with other research which shows substantial benefit.
So for the two instances above - Resveratrol, the primary molecule that makes red wine beneficial, is a supplement I have taken for over a decade. I have heard the man who discovered it speak twice, and read numerous articles on the benefits of taking reservatrol. If you search my website, you get 69 hits for things I have reported about the benefits of taking resveratrol. So research indicating it benefits the heart is consistent with the other benefits, and it is much easier to show heart effects in rats than in humans. Even if it turns out not to benefit humans' hearts, taking it will provide many other benefits. So I feel the literature supports drawing your attention to further evidence that resveratrol is beneficial, even though it is a study in rats.
For curcumin also, there is ample evidence of its benefits. I try to add some to something I eat each day, because it is a potent anti-carcinogen. If it also improves your energy, great. The research was done in flies. Doing that experiment in humans has not been done, but it is possible. If I wrote the statement my reader recommended, I think many people would ignore it. But a positive message about the benefits of curcumin may encourage more people to use it, reducing the chance they will get cancer. I would rather, in my short message, reinforce that curcumin is good for you.
The headlines I send each month are linked to my notes, and those are linked to the abstracts of the actual research results. I read the actual papers. There are about 60 articles in each journal, from which I find 4 to 12 that I find worthwhile to highlight. With a goal of keeping my emails to one screen, it is a challenge to be concise and informative, to use the latest research to try in influence you to behaviors likely to increase your healthspan.
But you definitely are entitled to understand my personal guideline expressed here of how to communicate the progress in nutrition research. So every email I send is intended as a treat. Happy Halloween.
- Roc, Nutrition Investigator