Nutrition Experiments Are Hard
This week in news we are talking about why the news can never seem to report accurately on nutrition studies. It’s not their fault they’re stupid, it’s their parents fault…also nutrition studies are inherently hard to conduct.
I’m not an actual scientist. This article is to give the layperson a basic understanding of why all scientific studies are not equal and conducting nutrition experiments is hard. If you are an actual scientist go read something with more Latin words and numbers. Or take a literal chill pill before reading this because it is by no means academic.
Although the scientific method provides a great framework for exploration into life and the forces that guide it it is far from perfect. The further you get into the complexity of our modern world the more you need to compromise the structure of an experiment. In nutrition specifically it is extremely difficult to conduct an experiment without major flaws. These flaws will need to be adjusted for, that is just the nature of human variability. Below is a brief rundown of the major types of experiments you may see used in a nutritional paper.
Control Lab Study
In a lab (or metabolic ward) a scientist can conduct a proper controlled study in which there is one variable and all else is held constant. Once you start to move away from things that are easily observable in a laboratory setting you begin compromising aspects of control. Again, a controlled study conducted in a sterile environment is the ideal experiment for scientists who are studying things that they wish to examine. one variable of a chemical reaction, or biological process, or physics phenomenon at a time. It is basically impossible to conduct this type of study when studying human life, societal interactions, or macro phenomena.
Double Blind Placebo Controlled
This is the gold standard for scientists in fields like nutrition, health, and the social sciences. It includes two groups an experimental group and a control group. In the experimental group a new drug or technique is administered. In the control group a placebo drug or technique is administered. For instance a sugar pill for a control drug or regular therapy as opposed to whatever the new experimental technique is. The rule of thumb for these experiments is that all else is equal except for the actual administration of that which is being tested. The blind part of this study is that the participants have to be blind. Just kidding. They are just not given the details of the experiment. And aren’t told whether or not they are in the control or experiment group.
Field intervention study
A field study is that which is not performed in the lab. Intervention means that scientists will implement some type of experiment in which subjects are expected to continue with their normal routine. They will then be periodically brought in for questioning and tests. For instance, having an experiment group of similar people (i.e. 30 year old former athletes who now work office jobs or 95 year old former fire breathers with dementia) implement intermittent fasting in their diet for a set amount of time. The control group is of the same demographic as the experiment group. However, the control participants are not asked to change anything in their habits. Possible flaws in a field study include human variability, adherence issues, truthfulness (whether intentional or unintentional).
Field Non-Intervention observational study
As I’m sure you can guess this study involves observing human life or some macro phenomenon without intervention. Obvious issues include but are not limited to human variability, unknown pre-existing condition, lack of any control. Many things need to be adjusted for these types of studies with fancy math. Papers for these experiments often have many caveats. The repeatability of these experiments is difficult as well since the original conditions will never be exactly the same.
A survey is self explanatory. If you don’t know this google it. Historical studies are a type of survey study in which the data is collected from events that happened in the past. That was probably an unnecessary explanation as well.
No Nutrition Study Is Perfect
All studies in nutrition have flaws. It is impossible to conduct a long term broad scoped study that is relevant to a whole population in a lab. Conducting a double bling study in nutrition is quite difficult when that which is being tested is a dieting style or a lifestyle change. This is because the subjects obviously know what they are changing in their life.
Even studies that are considered a gold standard or the study to replicate are often misleading as well. Typically they will get a result on one population, be it 30 year old, in shape Scandinavians living in the 1950s or what have you. Readers of the study will then extrapolate the results out to the whole world and say that “this” is how the world is, or should be. This is a flawed approach and often something only an adept reader will realize. We aren’t all 30 year old Scandinavians with six-packs and golden hair living during the Cold War.
Just think of each study on nutrition you find yourself reading for fun as a beautiful snowflake in which you need to find its flaws before you can fully appreciate it. It’s kind of like love. All people seem the same on the surface, it’s only once find find the flaws, intricacies, and as Robin Williams put it “picadillos” of another person that we can truly love them.
Now Go Learn Something
Now you have a better understanding for why nutrition is always changing and always declared wrong by some people. To top it all off you also got life life advice from an American Icon. Take this as a lesson in individuality. Every study has it’s own quirks, just like every person is unique. This is the same reason why there is no perfect diet for the whole world or perfect fitness plan.
If you are looking to try and figure out what works for you, check out this page and sign up for a free consultation with me. We can get you to where you want to go without worrying about what everyone else is doing.