It’s time to tackle part II!
In Part I (read it first), I went through roughly the first 15 minutes of the documentary. I’m focusing on the studies the movie uses, as per their website. It’s a complicated situation, so it’s taking awhile to really look through it all fairly.
But! Here we go, starting from where we left off.
What the Health? What You Need to Know (Part II)
Point #1: Chicken consumption leads to prostate cancer recurrence
From where we left off…the documentary claims that men who consume the highest amounts of chicken have the highest risk of prostate cancer.
The study they link to specifically notes that only processed meats and chicken skin are associated with a higher risk of *recurrence* of cancer. A 2011 study showed that only eggs were positively associated with increased risk of death from prostate cancer (not incidence of cancer in the first place). Naturally, these studies were done with commercially available food, not pasture-raised meats, which is significant.
Plus, a 2016 meta-analysis of poultry consumption and prostate cancer risk concluded there was no association. (And no, it was not funded by the poultry industry.)
Further, a 2013 study concludes there is no known “optimal” diet for preventing or coping with prostate cancer, because there are too many variations, and that focusing on a whole foods approach rather than trying to figure out exactly what is right, is probably best.
Point #2: Chicken is the primary source of cholesterol in the diet
Next point…the documentary claims that chicken is the primary source of cholesterol in the American diet. The single source they cite is an article by an organization promoting a vegan diet as “the” right way.
Chicken does have roughly the same amount of cholesterol as beef (source); technically, very slightly more. Americans have historically eaten more beef than chicken (at some points, much more), although the consumption is roughly the same now (source). So, it may or may not be true that chicken is really the primary source of cholesterol.
Basically…maybe chicken is the primary source of dietary cholesterol, but that isn’t relevant. It’s a lot more complicated than that.
Point #3: Eating an egg a day is as bad as smoking 5 cigarettes!
This was one of the most controversial points in the film, for obvious reasons.
They offer three pieces of evidence. The first is a mini-rant from a doctor about how bad eggs are. This is based on the cholesterol content of eggs. Another was a study looking at causes of mortality, and directly compares deaths from heart disease (not egg consumption) to deaths from smoking. The third is the risk for arterial plaque from egg consumption in people already at risk for heart disease.
The whole idea is based on eggs containing high amounts of dietary cholesterol, and that dietary cholesterol contributing significantly to heart disease in otherwise healthy people. Unfortunately, as shown above, this association doesn’t hold up.
A 2015 study shows that eggs can be harmful or helpful in the diet, depending on what else the person is eating and whether or not they already have health conditions.
All in all…this one just isn’t significant based on the total body of evidence.
Point #4: The number one source of saturated fat is dairy
They provide one source of evidence for this claim — a list of foods by saturated fat content from Harvard. This is obviously supposed to provide evidence that you shouldn’t consume dairy, because “saturated fat is bad.”
A 2016 study concludes that dietary sugars are a greater risk for heart disease than saturated fats. A 2012 study concluded that saturated fats are not associated with an increased risk of heart disease, and that dietary advice is not in line with current scientific evidence.
A 2015 study specifically notes that “…SFAs in the context of dairy foods, particularly fermented dairy products, have neutral or inverse associations with CVD.” (SFAs = Saturated Fatty Acids.)
A 2017 meta-analysis showed that there was no association between consuming dairy and the risk of heart disease or stroke.
Point #5: Meat/egg/dairy industries like to fund studies to confuse people
I have no doubt that they do. This particular point is likely why people who trust in this movie are refusing to read or believe any rebuttals of the movie. They see it as more evidence (confirmation bias) that others who oppose them are trying to trick people or confuse the issue.
Make no mistake, the movie was masterfully put together. It created a very powerful story line that encourages people to believe strongly in the movie’s message and to ignore any criticism. (This is what propaganda is, by the way.)
The most important take-away here is, there are plenty of studies out there that are not funded by any industry that agree that meat/eggs/dairy are neutral or beneficial for people. These, we should take seriously.
Point #6: You are not doomed by your genes
I agree! Yes, some people have a genetic predisposition to certain diseases, but this does not mean you will end up with them. What you do or don’t eat, or do (lifestyle-wise, like exercise or smoking) can have a large impact on whether or not you ultimately develop those diseases.
Point #7: Fish is bad because mercury, PCBs, etc.
No actual studies are provided to support this, just opinion pieces.
One article that they use as evidence actually talks more about milk and eggs than fish, and specifically notes that a major issue is farming practices, not the consumption of milk and eggs themselves. It’s contamination risk…not that these foods are inherently unhealthy.
In general, the evidence they provide here strongly suggests that we should stop poisoning our planet with chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and stop poisoning our oceans with mercury.
Small fish, caught in protected waters, does not have these issues — and there are “low mercury” labels on fish to help avoid the types of fish causing major issues.
Contamination is a real problem, make no mistake. But avoiding the contaminated foods is the real solution, not avoiding the foods completely.
Point #8: Dioxin exposure comes largely from eating animal products
The movie provides four pieces of evidence to support this…none of which actually do.
The first source explains how dangerous dioxins are. The second source mostly explains how dangerous they are, and also notes that consumption of this chemical (no longer made or used) comes from contaminated water, air, or animal products. The third source is a video about how not to detox from one of their favorite vegan experts. The fourth source just talks about the benefits of breastfeeding, and seems to have nothing to do with the topic at all.
That second source is the best “evidence” they have. But the overall message is that dioxin exposure is decreasing and is coming largely from contaminated water sources. This contaminated water could be used for animals (thus contaminating animal products), or to water crops (thus contaminating crops). So…yes, it’s an issue, but it’s not nearly as big an issue as they make it sound.
Point #9: Conventional animals are largely fed GMOs
No real arguments here. Yes, a good portion of the animals’ diets are GMO corn and soy. They also are given non-foods or processed food waste — stale chips, bakery products, even gum. They’re fed anything that won’t kill them. Plus, they’re given prophylactic antibiotics in their food, which is not good for anyone.
Later points in the movie discuss more about GMOs in animal feeding, but I won’t address those separately. GMOs are not healthy, and feeding animals GMOs is common and not healthy either.
No one’s arguing that conventional farming is good for anyone.
Point #10: Organic meat is still contaminated
One study is offered that shows that organic meats are still contaminated due to environmental contamination. This study did not test to see if organic produce was contaminated or not. A second piece of evidence points to unusual radioactive contamination at a single site in Hawaii — but this cannot be extrapolated to all meat and dairy.
This point shows how toxic our environment (sadly) is, but the problem is not limited to only animal products.
Point #11: Dairy is strongly associated with autoimmune disease
They point to several studies, and several more articles to explain this point. We’ll ignore the articles for now.
The first study they use shows an increased risk of asthma in children whose mothers consumed low fat yogurt in pregnancy. This association did not hold up for children whose mothers consumed full-fat dairy! The authors of the study suspect an additive in the low-fat yogurt…and not dairy itself.
The second study deals with using a plant-based diet to help those already dealing with multiple sclerosis. It showed no improvements of major brain function, but some improvements in fatigue levels and symptoms. This study is an intervention study looking at people who already have an autoimmune disorder, and can’t be used to prove that dairy, specifically, caused the disorder to appear in the first place.
The third study looked at introducing cow’s milk specifically in babies under 1 year of age (6 – 12 months) and their risk of diabetes. It found a higher risk of diabetes in these babies than in those who were given formula. The study does not say specifically, but the formula was most likely cow’s milk-based. The moral of the story here is, don’t use plain cow’s milk as a primary source of food in babies under 12 months…and preferably not ever. A safe infant formula (yes, based on cow’s milk!) or breastfeeding is preferred because of the better balance of nutrients.
In other words…they have provided no strong evidence that autoimmunity is actually related to dairy consumption.
A 2013 study points to wheat consumption increasing the likelihood of autoimmune disorders.
A 2007 study shows that raw milk consumption is inversely associated with asthma. (Meaning, it actually reduces the risk.) A 2014 study showed that higher consumption of dairy/eggs in pregnancy was associated with a lower risk of asthma later. A 2004 study did show that avoiding milk and eggs in children already diagnosed with asthma was beneficial.
A 2012 study shows that it’s gut flora changes that influence the development of type I diabetes — meaning that can affect the correct development of gut flora (which could include early cow’s milk introduction) could increase risk.
Is there “strong” evidence that dairy is associated with autoimmune disorder? No. Not at all. Could dairy play a role for some, particularly those who have a history of allergy or sensitivity? Yes. Is this an argument that no one should ever consume dairy again? No, particularly since unprocessed, full-fat dairy has been shown to be protective for some.
Point #12: Most people are lactose intolerant
The one actual study that the use as evidence here concludes that lactose intolerance is very common among populations living in areas where it has historically been difficult or impossible to maintain dairy herds — so their bodies adapted to not be able to digest milk. This does not apply to populations in other areas.
A 2012 study actually better proves their point (they didn’t cite it), showing that up to 75% of the world’s population does lose some ability to digest dairy sometime between 2 and 12 years old.
A 2015 study looks at the issue another way. It suggests that being “lactose intolerant” is actually a gut flora problem, rooted in overall maladapted digestion. Another 2015 study comes to a similar conclusion.
Essentially…this issue is more complicated than it seems. It’s not as simple as “dairy is bad for people,” but perhaps something is going on with our overall gut flora that is causing general problems with digestion. Addressing the underlying cause is the better plan here, although some people may need to be dairy-free temporarily or permanently depending on their symptoms and needs.
Point #13: Children are sick because they are consuming dairy
They provide several points, and again we’ll ignore all the opinion pieces and look at only the studies.
The first study they cite is that dairy allergy can manifest as constipation. Dairy allergies do exist, but this study isn’t evidence that dairy is causing health issues in non-allergic children.
The second study looks specifically at anemia in toddlers caused by excessive cow’s milk consumption (a diet that is primarily cow’s milk and nothing else) and cites just two case studies. This is hardly a robust study. It does show that cow’s milk should never be the main food in a child’s diet, but is not an argument for cessation of dairy consumption.
The third study looks at GERD/reflux in children and its association with cow’s milk. It’s a tiny study, the first intervention was a drug (like Prevacid or Zantac), and milk was removed only if the drug didn’t work. Dairy allergy may present as reflux…but again, this isn’t an argument that dairy is bad for all children.
A 2016 study showed that children and teens who ate more dairy had overall healthier diets (less junk food and fewer alcoholic drinks in teens).
A 2014 study showed neutral or inverse association between dairy consumption in children, and being overweight, having cavities, and high blood pressure. (Meaning in some cases it was protective against these negative health outcomes.)
A 2015 study found that higher dairy consumption was associated with lower risk of obesity, heart disease, and greater fitness levels.
There are plenty of (non-industry-funded) studies showing overall better health outcomes in children who consume dairy, and the handful of studies provided to prove dairy is “harmful” were very small, specific, and looked at only children with an allergy.
We’ll stop right here and call it a day on part II. There are likely two more parts coming yet! This documentary deserves a thorough look from all sides, plus a final conclusion on the overall message of the film. In the next couple of weeks!
How do you feel about “What the Health?”
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